The Livingston Inn | Madison, Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org
Information on Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Concerts on the Square: http://www.wcoconcerts.orgBDDS4-cellos

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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.  www.mmoca.org

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.  www.mtmadison.com

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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.  www.juneteenthmadison.wordpress.com

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.  www.radicalsultimate.com

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.  www.shakethelake.org

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!

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