In the studio: Mary Ellen Ryall

1 11 2013

Butterfly posterMary Ellen Ryall and I crossed paths more than eight years ago when I purchased milkweed seeds from her through eBay. This connection quickly morphed into a frequent e-mail exchange and a great friendship! I do volunteer design and photography for her environmental education organization, Happy Tonics. For several years, I designed and produced her quarterly 4-page newsletter, Butterflies & Gardens, as well as other marketing materials. I also designed a Monarch Butterfly Habitat Poster for her a few years ago. The poster included original photographs by me and my friends Brian K. Loflin ( and Jeff Evans (

I had the chance to visit Mary Ellen in her former home base in Minong, Wisconsin, in August 2011. (Sidebar: at the time I was making the three-hour drive from the Minneapolis airport to Minong, I called Michael and learned that I had just missed a big earthquake in the D.C. area; it was enough to scare both him and our cat, ZenaB, and for a vase to fall off a bookcase and break!). While in Shell Lake and Minong, I visited Mary Ellen’s Monarch Butterfly Habitat and met many of her friends, most notably Diane Dryden, a published author and feature writer for the Washburn County Register. Diane’s novels, The Accidental King of Clark Street and Double or Nothing on Foster Ave., are available on Amazon here.

About a year ago, Mary Ellen relocated to Fitchburg, MA, to be closer to her sister. She talked of slowing down, but I knew she wouldn’t—she’s brimming with far too many ideas! An author and truly dedicated environmental educator, Mary Ellen’s first book, My Name is Butterfly, was published by Salt of the Earth Press in 2011. This teaching book about a little girl and a Monarch butterfly was illustrated by Marie Aubuchon-Mendoza and is available here.

TwoBooksEarlier this year, I assisted Mary Ellen with producing The Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book. Written by Mary Ellen Ryall and illustrated by Moira Christine McCusker, It is available for purchase here. It is published by Mary Ellen’s new company, Butterfly Woman Publishing. Our next project is a plant guidebook, which we hope to debut in 2014. She visited the D.C. area a few weeks ago to attend a three-day conference for the North America Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC). She is presently on a task force to design a smart app called S.H.A.R.E. (Simply Have Areas Reserved for the Environment). This app will allow gardeners around the country to list their habitats on a national map. Mary Ellen blogs about organic gardening and open pollination for diversity on her blog here.

After seeing the portraits I did of her while she was in town, Mary Ellen said, “now I see that I have to go out and buy a new wardrobe!” The outfits she is wearing came from my “modeling rack” as well as my closet. She feels I captured her energy in the shots—and if you’ve ever met her, you know how high-energy this woman is!

P.S. Butterflies are the second largest group of pollinators after bees. Butterflies as pollinators are in trouble too. The Monarch butterfly population is down to only five percent in 2013. The Monarch and other butterflies need native host plants. We need to plant native wildflowers to bring butterflies home. Milkweed is the only host plant of the Monarch butterfly. If you would like to be part of the solution to stop the decline of Monarch butterflies, plant some milkweed seeds in your garden! Mary Ellen sells seed on her website here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


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Categories : Butterfly, Flowers, Food, gardening, Insects, nature, Photography, portraits, publishing, Travel

Photo Posse

A Day in the Life of a Cranberry

Native wild cranberries of Wisconsin
Native wild cranberries of Wisconsin

This is a story about Wisconsin native cranberries. My sister, Ronnie Hohos, and I were traveling towards Hayward, on Route 77, in October 2011. A cranberry bog was on the left. You couldn’t miss it. The water was red with floating cranberries. We both wanted to see the operation. I turned the minivan around and headed back to the bog. The cranberry business is owned and operated by the Zawistowski family. Wisconsin has the largest cranberry harvests in the country, an average of 60 percent comes from Wisconsin.

Men working in the marsh with berries.
Men working in the marsh with berries.

During the growing season, the berries grow on vines close to the ground. At harvest time, the bogs are flooded. Men on harvesting machines rake the vines to loosen the cranberries.  It was exciting to see the work. Many people stopped their cars and with camera in hand, watched as men worked in a coordinated rhythm. I think the men must be proud to be harvesting a wild edible fruit that feeds so many people during the holidays. Nets were cast out upon the water. Men in the water, dressed in hip boots, raked cranberries towards a waiting truck. The cranberries were herded toward a long moving conveyer belt. The berries went up the belt into a truck bed. When a truck was full, the driver drove the truck to the next processing stage.

Making sure berries are clean of chocking weeds and flowing smoothly up the belt.
Making sure berries are clean of chocking weeds and flowing smoothly up the belt.

Trucks waited in turn to unload berries. A woman kept the conveyer belt free of weeds, while clean berries were downloaded from the marsh truck. Then the cranberries were conveyed up to a delivery truck. The cranberries were now ready to be transported to a warehouse. At the warehouse, cranberries would be cleaned, dried, cooled, and frozen for processing. Fresh fruit was also transported to warehouses where it is cleaned, dried, cooled and delivered for sale.

Cranberries going to a warehouse.
Cranberries going to a warehouse.

What would Thanksgiving be without cranberries? I bought five pounds of fresh cranberries and bagged them, by cupful, into zip lock bags. The berries are in my freezer. I can cook and bake with cranberries, all winter long. Cranberries are good for health. The dark hard fruit contains large amounts of vitamin C. Cranberries are used for urinary tract infection. The berry acidifies the urine and prevents bacteria from adhering to the bladder (Balch, 1997).

Old conveyor from years past.
Old conveyor from years past.

According to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, cranberries contain hippuric acid, which has antibacterial effects on the body, as well as natural antibiotic ingredients. Cranberries may help with atherosclerosis, which is a primary cause of cardiovascular disease. Cranberries minimize the formation of dental plaque. The use of cranberries may be beneficial in the prevention of ulcers, which are linked to stomach cancer and acid reflux disease. To maintain good kidney health, the National Kidney Foundation recommends one large glass of cranberry juice a day.

When I bake berry pies, which is quite frequently in winter, I always add a cup of cranberries. Strawberries are sweet and when added to cranberries, blueberries, and apples, I don’t need to add much sugar. That’s the point. I want to eat berries for health, but not have to pay the price of sugar in my diet. When I use sweeter berries with cranberries it helps sweeten the pie. The juices are rich and colorful. I always add a little organic tapioca to help thicken the pie. It works.

One of my favorite foods is craisins. I buy mine from the cranberry marsh because it takes an average of 6 – 8 hours to bake the berry dry. One can make lots of recipes with cranberries. My sister bought a copy of the Zawistowski Family Cookbook, which she gave to me. One of the recipes, in the book, I learned from, Sheila, the cook at the Minong Senior Center. She adds craisins to meatloaf and it is good. I started making meatloaf using organic grass fed beef, with craisis, and I love it. To learn more about health benefits of cranberries visit at

It wouldn’t be Wisconsin if we didn’t have an outhouse. Yes, it is probably a relic but then again, maybe not.

Outhouse relic from the past.
Outhouse relic from the past.

Making Butter the Old Fashioned Way

making butter
Real butter hand made from cream

My friend Sandy Stein said, “You can make butter from Teresa’s organic milk.”  I didn’t have a clue how to do this but I bought a half gallon of organic milk from Springbrook Organic Daily.  Dahlstrom’s grocery in Shell Lake, Wisconsin, sells this cream line milk.  It is absolutely delicious.

 The first time I tried to make butter, I poured the cream in a glass bottle and shook the bottle for over a half hour and nothing happened.  Then I mentioned my experience to the elders where I live and one said, “You need to let the milk get to room temperature first.”  The next time I tried the same experiment with room temperature milk and the cream formed butter.

Granted I didn’t make that much butter but I was so proud of myself.   I too can make butter the old fashioned way.