Reader mail: polka, accordions, Vietnam, dinner

Readers, let’s empty the mailbag! — Fans of polka music sure seem passionate about this style of music. Jim Lueneburg of Menasha says his dad worked six days a week as a barber, then played drums in a polka band at weddings, anniversary parties and other events. “I would go along with him when I(…)

Take Ten: Women-owned farms to visit

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Lisa Kivirist and husband John Ivanko of Browntown have earned national recognition for their farm and renewal energy work. By Lisa Kivirist This Mother’s Day, celebrate the women championing Wisconsin family farms when traveling. We women in agriculture are increasing in number: In Wisconsin, the number of women-owned farms increased over(…)

Hot Springs: smallest national park, historic spa setting

The average spa treatment in this country involves low lights, soothing music, a heated massage table and complete privacy (unless booking a massage for two). The more celebrated the facility, the more likely that services command three-digit prices, plus a tip for the therapist. Buckstaff Bathhouse, open since 1912, breaks all those rules. The location,(…)

Some pets go to work with their owners

Back when I was a newspaper features editor in Madison, which seems like a lifetime ago, one of our most popular weekly items was “Look Who’s Minding the Story,” a photo and caption about a business where a pet lived or regularly visited. Shopkeepers who sold yarn, flowers, bakery for dogs, insurance, consignments, hemp goods(…)

Wisconsin Dells gives downtown artful uplift

Roger Brooks of Arizona is a tourism branding expert who helped shape Wisconsin Dells as Waterpark Capital of the World. End of story? Hardly. Brian Landers was a Dells police officer for 18 years before his election as mayor in 2011. So, no more bad-guy roles? Hah. Kelli Trumble found room for adults-only Sundara Inn(…)

Polka festivals: a sure sign of spring

Almost all states with an official dance choose the square dance, but not Wisconsin. Not by a longshot. We picked the polka in 1993, as a nod to ethnic heritage, but the dance doesn’t acknowledge just German ancestry. “Polka Heartland: Why the Midwest Loves to Polka” (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $30) by folk music historian(…)

New brews, awards, dishes, events for 2016

Spring is a time for renewal, and my notebooks are fat with snippets of new and new-to-me gleanings from annual state tourism and Midwest FoodService Expo conferences. — A few of Wisconsin’s best-known beverage makers are experimenting with new flavors. Wisco Pop! in Viroqua uses whole fruit to add strawberry soda to its all-organic lineup(…)

Boutiques for bowser: Seven pet-friendly hotels

Dog lovers who don’t want to leave their pet at home might think campgrounds and the occasional cabin are their only options for full-family getaways, but a few of Wisconsin’s boutique hotels welcome four-footed travelers too. How pet friendly is Wisconsin? Friendly enough for the state tourism department to emphasize travel with pets as a(…)

Best cheese in the world? Wisconsin’s Grand Cru Surchoix

Best in the world. An award out of U.S. reach since 1988. Almost 3,000 entries, the most ever, from 23 countries. The big cheese in the 2016 World Championship Cheese Contest, judged this month in Madison, is the Grand Cru Surchoix made in Monroe by Emmi Roth USA, whose parent company is a specialty cheese(…)

Radio show tickets: Where to watch broadcasts

Wisconsin Public Radio’s decision to end the “Whad’Ya Know?” show concludes an on-air era of quick wit and timely humor by Michael Feldman, the host for 31 years. His weekly and nationally syndicated schtick of comedy, conversation, music and current events has made the Midwest a little less anonymous, a little more endearing. The final(…)