Rhonda Hayes

Rhonda Hayes is a garden writer, photographer and blogger. She also volunteers as a Hennepin County Master Gardener. Rhonda chronicles her gardening adventures and advice at her award-winning blog, The Garden Buzz. She is a frequent contributor to Northern Gardener magazine and the Star Tribune Home + Garden section. At Your Voices, she writes about life around the city lakes, occasionally veering off the garden path with essays on the silly and serious issues of the day.

Freezing? Visit a Greenhouse or Conservatory.

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: December 24, 2013 - 11:01 AM

While I'm busy entertaining all the folks and a bad cough, I'm offering a tip for the remainder of the holidays. Glasshouses like that at Marjorie Neely Conservatory at the Como Zoo and other similar facilities in the area are a great way to escape winter if just for a few hours. Step into one of these wonders on a frigid day like today; see green things growing, feel the warm air and smell the damp soil and it goes a long ways in chasing the winter blues away.

In keeping with the same theme here's the link to another one of my Home Depot guest blogs. This post isn't selling anything, just reminiscing about a time when I was lucky enough to have a backyard greenhouse of my own.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my readers.

A Postman's Daughter P.O'd at the P.O.

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: December 14, 2013 - 3:25 PM

As the daughter and daughter-in-law of retired life-long postal workers I've always defended the USPS. I'm the person who stands cheerfully in line, often deflecting the grumbling and grouching of others while waiting to mail letters and packages. Never one to throw business at the guys in brown or that fancy Fed-ex I remained loyal to the place that buttered my family's bread. That's changed.

Before it was always a time to maybe see friends, meet interesting fellow human beings and just plain people-watch while queueing to accomplish a mundane task. I liked to sneak peeks at the addresses of their boxes and letters and imagine the lives at the other end. There were the postage stamp posters for entertainment if all else failed. But those trips to the P.O. have lost their charm.

Lately my upbeat attitude is as outdated as the yellowing cardboard display with it's heartfelt but naive suggestion that stamp-collecting is a healthy alternative to drugs. Ironic that the post office has gone to pot in another way so to speak. Lots of lobbies are dirty and disheveled; ravaged, never-refilled bins where forms and flat-rate (a great idea by the way) boxes should be and lifeless chains without pens at the end are the norm. 

I don't want to be one of those people who enter the post office, jaw set, ready to be disappointed, much less the ones who come in itching for a fight. You know them, they sigh and roll their eyes in line, they turn around looking to the folks behind them for commiseration and mumble something about taxpayers' dollars even though the agency is solely funded by postage it collects. 

Employees seem to barely make eye contact much less muster a smile. I guess they have been beat down so hard by irritated customers they are just getting through their day or is it the other way around? And why is there only one clerk when the line is out the door?

Out in the community some walking mail carriers still seem to care, but many can't be bothered and brush by you, deaf to your presence behind their earbuds. There's no longer such a thing as a regular mailman their routes change so frequently.

Should the USPS get out of the buggy-whip business and just give up? Is it a top-down or a bottom-up problem? Are there any bright ideas for breathing life into what was such a vital service? In the city we find alternatives, but little towns that lose their post office are not long for the world. 

What do you think? Anyone besides me ready to break up with the post office, or am I one of the last ones still hanging on?

Simple Veggie Soups for After Thanksgiving

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: November 27, 2013 - 11:17 AM

Happy Thanksgiving Readers! Like me you're probably busy in the kitchen today and tomorrow. However you can head over to my personal blog for a link to my deceptively simple soup formula that uses fall veggies from the garden (and fruits) for delicious creamy soups (without the cream) that will fill you up with filling you out.

 Soups from the Garden to Serve Now or Freeze for Later

Adaptable Urban Wildlife, Well Almost

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: November 12, 2013 - 2:38 PM

When we left the western suburbs for the city my only regret was leaving the critters behind. No more would I breakfast within sight of eagles, encounter and maneuver around minks on the dock or spy baby Bambis on the way to the grocery store. 

Moving to Minnesota and settling along the Minnetonka/Wayzata border I was always in awe of the sheer variety of critters roaming the woods and waters around my home. Animals I only imagined in the great Northern wilderness made their homes and lives close to where I was doing the same. When I wasn't spotting them outright, I saw their tracks and other signs that they had passed by while busy surviving their day.

Six years later, heading into the city I figured the wildlife would be limited to only the most adaptable creatures; rabbits and squirrels, a few common birds and perhaps a flock of pigeons. But I was wrong.

With the exception of deer (although I hear they range a few blocks north of here by the country club) and the odd otter sighting, I have yet to miss a single animal I used to see before. They are simply in a different setting. And in some cases I see them much more.

The barred owl that took up sentinel on our basketball hoop right outside the window was stunning. The summer of the "sidewalk foxes" was surprising and delightful. A single tom turkey appeared for awhile foraging at 4 o'clock every day down the street. Waxwings still gobble fruit but from another tree. Eagles soar above me as I walk the trails, I must only remember to look up. I even glimpsed a mink as he made his way between the lakes. The city does not deter them.

Not all is charming though. Just as in the burbs, the ubiquitous raccoons prowl and plunder. They pillage bird feeders, chew through veggie gardens, terrorize urban poultry and wreak general havoc in neighborhoods. For the most part we do not find their antics endearing.

So when I noticed the pointy ears and black-masked eyes at a curious angle in the gutter the other day I just groaned. What are they up to now? But as I drove closer I realized this raccoon was between a rock and a hard place. 

Crawling into the street from the storm drain this guy ( or gal) had become stuck. He scrabbled and clawed but his butt was stuck. To make things worse it was a cold and rainy day. He would try and try then rest his head on the pavement with a look of sheer exhaustion and misery. Surely he would make it out in time?

I drove home half a block away but turned around and gave it another pass. He looked so pathetic, so pitiful. I thought about times in my life when I had become stuck, albeit usually metaphorically. I drove around the block one more time. Still stuck.

For a nanosecond I considered grabbing a blanket, throwing it onto the struggling critter and quickly pulling. However reason prevailed and I called in the experts. The lady at animal control gave an empathetic "awww" when I described the wily critter's plight. I had to leave for a prior appointment so I wasn't able to watch the extrication but he wasn't there the next day when I checked, so one way or another he found freedom. 

I couldn't help but wonder will he repeat the process. 

I still haven't forgiven the general raccoon population for the wrongs they have done me. But just like in war, when you see the enemy up close and personal, long held opinions can change.

The Better The Costume, The Worse The Weather

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: October 30, 2013 - 1:36 PM

With my kids grown up I miss making Halloween costumes, but I have to say I sure don't miss the weather worries associated with it. And we didn't even live in Minnesota then.

It was a point of pride for me that we always hit the streets in homemade costumes, none of that slick, shiny dime store stuff. Creativity was king.

Talking with my daughter on the phone recently I told her how the news featured the best Halloween costumes for cold weather and how to convince your kids you didn't really notice the sweatshirt layer underneath. Yeah, right she said. 

It never ceased to amaze me that no matter where we lived; the more imaginative the costume we concocted, the crappier the weather. If it wasn't the weather, something else always seemed to thwart my most earnest Halloween efforts.

It all started when the same daughter was obsessed with the Little Mermaid. Being a new mom I went all in and produced an iridescent tail with quilted fish scales and matching scallop-shell top, plus a sea-shell tiara. Of course, it was a rare Kansas snowstorm that night. At least we have the video of the three, count 'em, three trick or treaters that showed up. And yeah, yeah, I know all about your famous Halloween blizzard, so I can hear you say, wow, what wimps.

The year of the Beanie Baby. I sewed and sneezed through yards of polyester fur to transform my son into  Mel the adorable Koala, while my daughter went as his tag, an oversized foldout heart complete with that red plastic thing that attached to the toy. Yep, pouring rain. 

As the kids got older we switched from cute to catchy. The weather guys were predicting a warm evening, so we went with a Survivor theme, it was still new and newsworthy. Hawaiian shirts, buffs and tiki torches (and we hung a few of those old Beanie Baby rats and snakes on the torches). You have your Halloween blizzard of '91, Wichita had the Halloween flood of '98. I have a picture of them in their costumes with the TV's orange splotchy weather radar in the background.

It wasn't always the weather that rained on our parade. There was the year we moved to a very small Illinois town where unbeknownst to me they had strict rules about trick or treating. I had spent weeks sewing through slippery turquoise satin and sheer fabric to make my daughter the Disney character du jour, Jasmine ensemble from Aladdin. (She says she can still remember me crying when I sewed it backward and had to rip out all the delicate seams.) 

I waited for dark and headed out with the kids only to be told at the first door that trick or treating hours were 4-6pm and we were too late and out of luck. 

Moving a lot did mean we could recycle costumes occasionally because it was new again in a new town, I did get my money's worth out of my son's Great Pumpkin get-up.

 There were other times when I soldiered on with Halloween no matter the obstacle. "Soldier on" being what I was told whenever I encountered a problem while we were living in England. The kids still very young,  were worried they wouldn't have Halloween, especially with such a strong sentiment about adopting those "bloody American holidays". The first year, without a sewing machine and no craft stores in sight, we pulled off the Flintstones. I  used old scraps laced up the sides for cave men clothes and added a certain flourish with chicken bone (from the day-before dinner) accessories.  

The next year though, that little English village celebrated Halloween and our kids wore their costumes from the ill-fated Illinois year. Better yet they won pound coins as prizes at the pub. And at our house, we had three, count 'em, three trick or treaters.

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