Downtown Dining

So, you’re visiting beautiful St. Paul and you’re downtown, at the Winter Carnival, say. It’s about noon, and you want a nosh. Where should you go? Here are some ideas.

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Right on Rice Park is the St. Paul Hotel, which has a couple of fabulous restaurants. The St. Paul Grill is the fancier (and more expensive) option, with a full bar, while the M Street Cafe downstairs is also very tasty, with the choice to order the buffet or off the menu. We highly recommend the scrumptious fried egg sandwich.

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Anita’s Cafe, also on Rice Park in the Landmark Center, serves breakfast and lunch, and has a daily lunch special. Their food is fresh and delicious (they’re also a catering company), and served cafeteria style so it’s quick. They’re also very reasonably priced. Yelp labels them as a Mexican restaurant, and they do serve some Mexican dishes, but their menu has a much wider range.

Pazzaluna

Pazzaluna is a bit off Rice Park to the east, and a little expensive, but serves really good Italian food. We recommend going for happy hour if you want to enjoy the bar and sample their food offerings for a little less money. They recommend reservations.

Sakura

Sakura is a Japanese restaurant that serves excellent sushi, as well as other Japanese favorites like bento boxes (a personal favorite). It has a full bar as well as the sushi bar, and is open for lunch and dinner.

Meritage

Meritage, a fine French and seasonal restaurant, is also really close to Rice Park in the historic Hamm Building, and recommends reservations. Their food is as beautiful as it is delicious, and worth every penny. They have an outdoor terrace and an oyster bar, in addition to their lovely dining room.

Mickey's Diner

If you’re looking for something a little simpler, Mickey’s Diner has been offering diner food in an art deco dining car since 1939. It’s a St. Paul institution. Stop in for a malt or a meal and soak up the ambiance.

This is, of course, a mere sampling of the great dining options in downtown St. Paul, so you should explore on your own, but it’s a place to start.

 

 

Published in: on February 1, 2016 at 3:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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All Hail the Minnesota Winter!

A signature St. Paul event is happening this week – the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

The Winter Carnival, a tradition since 1886, is the oldest winter festival in the U.S. It was a response by local business owners to newspaper reports that the cold made the state virtually uninhabitable, and was designed to show off the beauties, and fun, of a Minnesota winter.

Boreas

The legend of the Winter Carnival centers around King Boreas, God of the Winds, and the Queen of Snows, who are holding court in St. Paul. They’re challenged by Vulcanus Rex, the God of Fire, Boreas’ implacable enemy. Boreas proclaims Carnival in St. Paul for ten days, and on the final day Vulcanus Rex storms Boreas’ ice castle. Not wanting to incite violence, Boreas retreats back to Olympus to dwell among the other gods there, and waits for ice and snow to enrobe St. Paul again next year.

Winter Court

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This story is acted out every year, with the courts of King Boreas, his brother winds, their princesses, and court officials, and Vulcanus Rex and his followers, and proceeds with the proper pomp and ceremony.

Ice sculptures

Ice Palace

The nexus of the carnival is Rice Park, located downtown St. Paul, where the ice sculptures are carved and displayed. This year there’s also a mini ice palace, made of 400 blocks of ice, an ice bar, and live music. Elsewhere are parades, the Snow Park with all sorts of fun family activities, the Disc Golf Ice Bowl, a snow plow competition, a cat show, and a winter run.

Medallion

And then there’s the Treasure Hunt. Daily clues appear in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and if you decode them correctly they point the way to the medallion’s hiding place and a fair amount of money. Otherwise you get fresh air, exercise, and the joy of the hunt. This is a very popular tradition, with thousands of people participating and some very active online forums debating the minutiae of the clues. You can see evidence of the searchers’ enthusiasm in the missing piece of the Medallion above.

So come join the fun and help celebrate winter in Minnesota.

 

Published in: on February 1, 2016 at 6:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Grande Dame Decked Out in All Her Holiday Finery

Although the holiday season has passed, we thought we’d give you an idea of how the B&B was dressed for the festivities this year. Beautifully, in case you wondered. :) (We limit the decorations to the public areas and outside. None of the guest rooms are adorned.)

We put up a lot of lights, as they reflect wonderfully off the woodwork, and impart a lovely glow after dark, which is much appreciated as the sun sets early this time of year.

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We string poinsettia lights around the inglenook mantel and …

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lights in the poinsettias illuminating the path up the stairs.

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Lights and boughs around the living room mantel,

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and a luminous ceramic village in the parlor.

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More lights in the dining room palm …

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revealing a roosting bird hidden among the fronds.

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A firmament …

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with angel in the dining room.

 

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And then, of course, the traditional mother load of ornaments – the tree!

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Decked out in treasures collected by our family over decades,

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many of which have stories and memories associated with them.

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The tree lends a beautiful radiance to the parlor inside …

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and glimmers through the window outside,

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complementing the little outdoor trees …

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and the rest of the house’s open air finery. (Just look at that porch!)

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Around back, just outside the kitchen, is a winter wonderland of greenery, lights, and snow, keeping the planters just as decorative in the winter as in the summer, when they’re full of flowers.

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I think snow is the prettiest shade you can have for fairy lights.

Published in: on January 30, 2016 at 7:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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Help the Twin Cities Celebrate Christmas

Here are some ideas to help the Twin Cities celebrate Christmas while you’re visiting the B&B.

A Victorian Christmas at the Alexander Ramsey House

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“Experience the sights, sounds and tastes of a Victorian Christmas in 1875. During the guided tour, guests can taste homemade cookies fresh from the wood burning stove, listen to popular holiday music of the era played on the family’s Steinway piano, and view original family ornaments and Christmas gifts. Discover how the Ramsey family and their friends, neighbors and servants prepared for and celebrated the Christmas season. Shop in the Carriage House gift store for replica Victorian ornaments and holiday items.

The 60-minute guided tours start every half hour with the last tour starting at 3:30 pm. A Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House runs Wednesdays through Sundays Nov. 27, 2015-Jan. 3, 2016, except Dec. 25.

Cost:  $11 adults, $9 seniors and college students, $7 ages 6-17, $3 discount MNHS [Minnesota Historical Society] members. Get tickets online or call 651-259-3015” (1 mile from the B&B.)

Hill House Holidays

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“The bustle and excitement of a Gilded Age Christmas is brought to life as the servants of the James J. Hill House prepare for the holidays. Costumed actors portray people who worked for the Hill family in a dramatized portrayal of servant life and holiday preparations at the Hill family’s Summit Avenue mansion. The program moves through the elegant first floor spaces and then to the basement servant work areas. The script is based on letters and oral histories of people who worked for the Hill family during the first decade of the 20th century.

Tours leave every half hour, and Hill House Holidays runs Saturdays and Sundays from Dec. 5-27.

Cost:  $12 adults, $10 seniors and students, $8 ages 6-17, $2 discount MNHS [Minnesota Historical Society] members. Get tickets online or call 651-259-3015” (6 blocks from the B&B.)

Check the James J. Hill House website for other events, such as concerts and storytelling.

An Eventually Christmas:  Holidays at the Mill

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“Join the Ghost of Mill City Past for an intimate look at the 1920 Washburn Crosby holiday party in this unique play set in the museum’s Flour Tower elevator ride. Scenes unfold on different floors where the audience meets characters drawn from the pages of the company’s employee newspaper, the Eventually News. Witness the rocky romance of Celia and Otto; meet marketing mastermind Benjamin S. Bull; experience the awesome sweeping power of Bill Smith and learn the secret origin of the Washburn Crosby marketing slogan, “Eventually—Why Not Now?”

Performances are at 6, 7 and 8 pm. Recommended for ages 8 and older. Ticket includes museum admission and refreshments after the play.

$14 adults, $12 seniors and college students, $10 ages 6-17 and MNHS [Minnesota Historical Society] members, $2 off adult admission with Fringe Festival button. Get tickets online or call 651-259-3015”

At the Mill City Museum Dec 13, 17, 18, 19th. (8.7 miles from the B&B.)

The Christmas Carol on stage

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The nationally renowned Guthrie Theater is continuing its annual tradition of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Check the website for more information and showtimes. (8.3 miles from the B&B.)

European Christmas Market

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“The European Christmas Market in St. Paul is based on the traditional, charming, and festive open air Christkindlmarkts that spring up in Germany, Austria and other countries during the Advent season. Shop for unique, handmade holiday gifts and decorations from local vendors, drink Glühwein (spiced mulled wine), and taste European inspired food and delicacies during the first two weekends in December:

Friday, December 4: 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Saturday, December 5: 10 am – 9 p.m.
Sunday, December 6: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Friday, December 11: 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Saturday, December 12: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday, December 13: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.”

At Union Depot downtown St. Paul. (2.3 miles from the B&B.)

Christmas Concerts

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A listing of Christmas concerts happening all over the city.

Holiday Events from the St. Paul Pioneer Press

Zoo-Lights
A listing of events happening in the Twin Cities in December, many of them holiday themed.

 

Have a Little Jazz Age with Your Cocktail

An icon has returned to the neighborhood – the Commodore Bar & Restaurant.

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The Commodore opened in 1920 as a posh art deco residential hotel, which hosted such luminaries as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (who added their daughter, Scottie, and the novel “The Beautiful and Damned” to their family during their stays) and Sinclair Lewis, as well as gangsters Al Capone, John Dillinger, and Fred Barker. It was one of THE places to stay in St. Paul.

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Naturally, there were amenities to keep the guests in the style to which they were accustomed. These included a restaurant and an illegal speakeasy, which, on the repeal of Prohibition, became the Mirror Bar, designed by notable architect and Hollywood set designer Werner Wittkamp. Fred Barker’s mother, Ma Barker, met her son’s girlfriend there.

Commodore Fire

The building was gutted by a gas explosion/fire in February of 1978, and was remodeled into condos. Alas, there was no public eating or drinking space.

However, while the space was devastated, the bar itself somehow escaped damage; even its eponymous mirrors remained intact. After remodeling, the beautiful space could be rented for private events. In fact, one of Bill’s daughters had her wedding reception there.

Upper+Bar+7+10-05-15+(1)Lounge+5+10-05-15.

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Now, after two years of renovation characterized by careful research and meticulous attention to detail, the space has been restored to its former Jazz Age glory. Full of warm light from glass chandeliers, black and white checkerboard floors, white leather, and stunning lines, the bar and restaurant offer a comfortable and cozy atmosphere and a feast for the eyes. Both food and drink are influenced by the 1920s and ‘30s, and many of the cocktail ingredients are locally sourced. The owners want to keep the prices reasonable, with the dinner menu topping out at about $30 for an entree. There are plans for live music and dancing, and the vibe is casually dressy and a little upscale, turning an evening out into an event.

Image with the piano copyright City Pages.

Published in: on December 5, 2015 at 9:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Highly Walkable Oasis of a Neighborhood

“We’re in the Ramsey Hill Historic District, a quiet and highly walkable oasis of beautiful old homes [and] gardens.”

We brag about our neighborhood, the Ramsey Hill Historic District, quite a bit here at the Cathedral Hill B&B. The above is a quote from our website, and today we’d like to show you some pictures that we think prove our claim.

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This is the corner of Holly and Mackubin, facing the block the B&B is on.

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A little further on you can see the B&B on the right, with the grand white porch.

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And this is across the street. Lots of beautiful trees with fall color, even on a gray day. And beautiful houses.

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This is the end of our block at Holly and Arundel. Posh condos on the right, and a really lovely example of a painted lady on the left. This house has windows that actually curve with the rounded bay window, and has diamond-paned windows that sparkle like anything in the sun.

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The next few photos are at the intersection of Portland, Western, and Summit Avenues, three blocks from the B&B. This corner features beautifully restored houses,

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and Nathan Hale Park, which has a skating rink and a spectacular light display in winter, thanks to the neighborhood association.

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Summit Avenue, marking the edge of the part of the city that’s oriented to the river instead of the cardinal directions, follows the bluff for a stunning view of the river and downtown.

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It was, and is again, the domain of the rich and famous of St. Paul, featuring the really grand houses, making up the longest continuous stretch of original Victorian housing in the US. And it’s only three blocks from the B&B. The dome you see peeking up there belongs to the Cathedral of St. Paul.

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It also has wide sidewalks and great trees,

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which offer plenty of shade in the summer and color in the fall.

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Not to mention fabulous leaf crunching opportunities.

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At Summit and Mackubin is a brick beauty, that was painted white when we moved into the neighborhood in 1978. Who knows what the owners were thinking?

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A block the other direction from the B&B is Ashland Ave.

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I think this color pops more because of the gray, not in spite of it.

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Gorgeous.

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A couple of blocks further north is Selby Avenue, once the place to eat, shop, and be seen, with its restaurants, shops,

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and stately Victorian commercial architecture. This building at Western Street, Blair Arcade, was once a residential hotel, The Angus, and somehow survived the urban renewal craze. It’s now condos, with a coffee shop, bookshop, restaurant, and salon among its commercial tenants.

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And finally, a further three blocks east, is Nina Street, one of the last brick-paved streets in the city.

I hope you enjoyed your walking tour. Come visit us and experience the neighborhood!

Published in: on October 31, 2015 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Kitchen of Our Dreams

In last month’s post about the B&B’s innovative floor washing system, you may have noticed some features unusual for a residential kitchen designed and remodeled just after 1980.

Cooking Area

Like, what’s with the (over?) abundance of appliances?

Well, when we bought this house in 1978, we had five kids, and weren’t ruling out the possibility of a couple more (which happened), and the burnt orange kitchen (with a pantry that took up way too much room) we inherited just wasn’t going to cut it. So Bill (who trained as an engineer) got out his drafting pencils (this was 1980, after all) and designed the kitchen of his dreams, based on logic and reason as well as aesthetics. He wanted it to be beautiful, but above all, it had to be functional. So, he started by figuring out how many meals would be prepared and eaten in that kitchen before he and Katy suffered(?) empty nest syndrome, and came up with 186,000.

Wow.

He figured with a family of 9, 2 stoves, 2 dishwashers and 2 sinks was only practical for a couple of reasons. First, when one inevitably broke down there was a backup (“no washing dishes in bathtubs,” as he says), and second, a larger family needs larger capacity. The two stoves, for instance have been a real blessing on holidays; we don’t have to worry about staging in the ovens and can bake at two different temperatures at the same time. And we get together as a family of 25 or so every Monday night, so two dishwashers are a real help.

He also included a trash compactor, so we wouldn’t be taking the garbage out daily. Given 2 stoves, he built a serious vent hood. The fan is powered by a 3/4 horsepower washing machine motor with 3 speeds built in and has a powered vent on the outside of the house. It’s loud, but really effective, and you don’t have to worry about a draft in the winter.

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There’s plenty of counter space. The peninsula offers a large stretch of unbroken counter with nothing over it, and accessible outlets on the back. There are flood lights in can fixtures over it for great lighting, and the undermounted sink has a garbage disposal so you can scrape scraps right into it.

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Katy wanted a sink big enough to bathe two grandbabies in at a time, and that’s what she got.

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You’ll notice the microwave, next to the door in this picture, has a large surround. Bill bought Katy a $600 microwave before he started remodeling the kitchen, and it was originally mounted there. In the last 35 years microwaves have gotten significantly smaller (and cheaper!), so he put in a frame to support the smaller microwave within its larger space.

Storage is another must in a kitchen. There are 4 rows of storage (all custom-built) on this wall. The cabinets under the ceiling are the soffets and store things that just don’t come out that often, like holiday dishes. Next are relatively standard upper cabinets, but with hidden hinges and fully adjustable shelves. (Bill made the middle upper cabinet on this wall as a dumbwaiter to the second floor where the laundry room is, but after everyone moved out changed it into a regular cabinet.) Next, at counter level, is the original toaster garage, liquor cabinet, meat slicer, and another cabinet. Under the counter is all wide, fully opening drawers with metal slides that hold 100 pounds. There are only three cabinets at this level in the entire kitchen:  under the sinks, and one for large cutting boards and cookie sheets, etc to stand on edge.

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The rest are (custom-built) drawers of varying depth

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and configuration depending on what Bill thought might go in them.

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This one is up above, I know, but look how deep it is, and it goes all the way back!

Another thing important to a kitchen is adequate lighting and power.

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These are the switches by the back door, including outdoor lights and basement lights.

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This is by the door into the kitchen from the front of the house. It controls task and ambient lighting at different levels, the sconces in the eating area, and the winch for the floor washing system. Everything is dimmable, and everything is controlled from this one panel. At its brightest, you could probably do surgery on the peninsula, if you were so inclined. (We discourage guests from doing surgery in our kitchen, btw.) :)

The power outlets are similarly available, both on the walls, under the upper cabinets, and in the cabinets where appropriate, such as the toaster garage and the meat slicer cabinet.

Eating Area

The peninsula also acts as a divider between the working and eating areas of the kitchen. The working area is clean surfaces, white appliances, a classic blue and white color scheme, and very modern. The eating area is all warm woods and sconce lighting, reflecting the style of our historic Victorian home.

Loft

However, it’s not all traditional. Bill wanted to use every inch of space, so he cut off the top of the cavernous stairway to the basement, and made it into a play loft for kids.

Loft Stairs

It has its own lighting and stairs, and is a place for kids to be under supervision without being under foot. And it’s definitely kid-sized. The grandchildren have as much fun up there as the kids did.

And Bill used the space under the loft’s stairs for a set of drawers. Did I mention he wanted to use every inch of space?

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This last picture hearkens back to the floor washing system blog entry again. Here’s how the seatbelts that hang the table from the ceiling look at their under-table attachment point. In case you were curious.

So that’s are kitchen. If a lot of this looks familiar, take a look at the current trends in kitchen design, and you’ll see that Bill was way ahead of his time. The extensive use of oversized drawers, the lighting, having more than four burners, the clean lines, extra storage, all of these are things that people want in kitchens now. And I can see why; they make the B&B’s kitchen a delight to use.

This kitchen was two years in the making, and worth every minute.

Published in: on October 31, 2015 at 8:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Yard (And House) Beautiful

We’ve completed the final phase of the outside renovation of the B&B – landscaping.

Last autumn ended with a newly elegant house on a bare patch of ground, soon hidden by the grace of winter. No one expects much landscaping in a Minnesota January.

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This spring, we first finished the last details on the house, including completing the lattice under the porch and reinstalling the original porch light fixture.

Then we started creating an outdoor setting that would complement our gracious B&B. As the backyard remained untouched through the renovation process, our efforts focused mostly on the front yard, with some attention paid to the side yards, as well.

The first step was cleaning up and grading the front yard. This included a lovely new layer of top soil to welcome the soon-to-be-arriving sod.

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We also put in a stepped retaining wall, with room for a planting bed, thus eliminating the hill down to the sidewalk.

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We used Chilton Wall Stone both for its shape and its natural varied coloration. It definitely adds pizzazz, don’t you think?

We also put stone borders around the porch, leaving room for a gravel bed (3/4 gray trap),

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lined the new herringbone walk, which now matches the width of our grand porch steps,

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and created two interesting, if small, planting beds designed to visually ease the transition between the differing widths of the walk and the cement stairs down to the sidewalk, and play with the fact that those stairs are off-center to the walk. They are, however, aligned with the walk to the street, which in itself is visually off-kilter due to the extra concrete pad designed to make alighting from vehicles less messy due to snow and mud. The visual geometry’s a little complex.

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Here we are with the stone in, the sod laid, and the boulevard seeded.

Next, the plants!

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We planted tuberous begonias alternating with hostas in the retaining wall bed and just hostas around the tree,

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astible in the little beds next to the stairs,

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and hydrangeas in the side yard.

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Beautiful grounds

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for a beautiful house.

Published in: on October 1, 2015 at 6:46 pm  Comments (1)  
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Floor Washing Magic

In visiting our fine B&B, have you noticed the drain in the kitchen floor, and that everything in the kitchen is built up off the floor? Well, this post is going to reveal the heart of this mystery:  Cathedral Hill B&B’s floor washing system!

When Bill remodeled the kitchen in the 1980s, he had 5 children with more on the way, and keeping the kitchen floor clean was not easy – a mop just wasn’t cutting it, and hands and knees is so 19th century. So he decided to install a complete system that was (and still is) effective, efficient, and enjoyable.

The first step is to get everything off the floor. All of the built-ins are designed that way, so that just leaves the chairs…

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and the table.

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A winch comes out of the ceiling at the touch of a switch, and the table gets hooked to it using a contraption built out of a steel plate and car seatbelts, which are, of course, rated for a lot of weight. The other ends of the seatbelts are on the bottom of the table. When the winch is raised back into the ceiling…

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the table goes with it and is out of the way. (You do have to be careful not to bump your head on the legs.) The decks are cleared for the warm water.

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A key is required to turn the water on, thus preventing accidental flooding. Smart, Bill!

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There are pipes just above the floor in different parts of the kitchen…

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four in total…

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giving complete coverage.

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Then soap is added; squirted directly onto the floor.

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There’s a long-handled brush for scrubbing,

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and a long-handled squeegee to coax the water down the drain when the floor’s clean.

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The final step is to wrap a large towel around the squeegee to dry the floor.

Even if the floor is swept first (which we heartily recommend!), there’s often detritus to clean off the drain as well.

Let down the table, and you’re done.

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With a half-hour’s work, you’re left with a sparkling,

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clean floor.

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The family has a lot of good memories of this system.

One year the house was on the Ramsey Hill House tour, and the newly renovated kitchen was the prime attraction. Bill built a bridge from the kitchen door to the back door and ran the floor washing system the whole time. People were very impressed.

Over the years there’ve been a lot of kids in and out of this house, and they love to slip’n’slide across the wet kitchen floor. The adults enjoy watching them. That last happened a few months ago.

I know Anona is wearing shoes in the above pictures, but as kids, we often didn’t. Who wanted to forgo the opportunity to go wading and splashing during a Minnesota January?

Another mystery solved.

Published in: on September 28, 2015 at 9:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Lushly Colorful Back Yard

The lush backyard is another restful place to sit and enjoy your stay at Cathedral Hill Bed & Breakfast.

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It’s colorful with flowers and greenery, and the fire pit is welcome when the weather starts getting crisp.

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The covered seating area on the deck offers shelter in inclement weather for a smallish group.

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From the deck you have a view of the carriage house with a reminder of its former inhabitants.

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You are also shaded by the pussy willow tree, that displays its fuzzy flowers in the spring.

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The other seating area has an almost French café feel, with the intimate groupings of tables, the umbrellas, and the profusion of vines.

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Adding to the European flair is the lion-headed fountain, peeking out from the greenery, ready to fill your outside sojourn with the restful sound of burbling water.

As our guest, we urge you to use our outdoor spaces as you would our indoor rooms, to relax, recreate, and meet up with friends.

Welcome to Cathedral Hill B&B.

Published in: on August 25, 2015 at 8:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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