She Sells Seashells…

blog, creative, pnw & travel
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Shells from La Ribera, Baja, Mexico

One of my favorite places on earth is a small, jawbone-shaped island off the western coast of Florida, called Sanibel Island. It’s like a land out of a story, and in fact, the first time I heard of it was in a story. One of the books my mom would read to us when we were kids (and even sometimes when we needed a bedtime story into adulthood) was “The Lion’s Paw,” by Robb White.

The Lion’s Paw follows two kids, Penny and Nick, who have run away from their orphanage. They sneak onto a sailboat to hide, and run into another kid, called Ben, and he’s on a mission to sail to Sanibel Island to find a rare shell called a Lion’s Paw. They manage a daring escape from Ben’s uncle and sail off into the night, hiding their boat up rivers along the coast in the daytime, warding off storms and patching together a destination from old letters and journals from Ben’s dad.

Ben’s collection of shells was as follows:

“In a shallow wooden tray divided into sections were dozens of sea shells. Penny looked at them, expecting to see the kind of shells she knew about — the white, bleached curved shells or gray wrinkled oyster shells — but in the sunlight the shells in the box were wonderful. They were of all colors and shapes, from deep orange to the faintest tinge of blue and green.”


The first time I stepped onto the beach in Sanibel, I didn’t know which way to turn. Like Penny, the kinds of shells I was used to finding were oyster and clam shells, few and far between, and mostly beat to hell. A shell’s journey to the beach in Oregon is a pretty rough ride.

In Sanibel, the shells were piled on the beach in drifts. Long stretches of the beach appeared to be made entirely of shells. Whole, beautiful, colorful shells. The waves washed over masses of shells, sending them tinkling over each other with the tiniest of bell chimes. I settled down into a particularly large patch of them, and set about sifting through very carefully, looking for the most beautiful, interesting and tiny perfect specimens.


Sanibel is well-known for its shelling. It’s a huge part of the tourism, there, with resorts boasting of the best shelling beaches, travel blogs detailing when the best shelling weather will be, and souvenir shops offering prime shells (in case you didn’t manage to find some on your own).

The “Sanibel Stoop” refers to that position in which many visitors find themselves on the beach: legs planted, bending at the waist, peering down at the myriad choices before them, searching for that rare Junonia or Lion’s Paw.

While not really a recipe for a good vacation, some of the best times for shelling come directly after a big, windy storm on the coast. That’s when the waves are high enough and come far enough in to carry the larger, rarer shells onto the shore. If you manage to find a whole Junonia shell, you’ll probably get your picture in the local paper!

I preferred to find a likely hoard, settle in, and sort. Some of the banks of shells were half a foot deep, and I figured there had to be some great shells buried somewhere in there, if one had the patience to seek them out. And I was right! I ended up bringing probably a thousand shells home from Sanibel.


A lot of them I gave away, but the ones I kept for myself I turned into my favorite sort of project: a mix of beauty and science. I love the look of these old letterpress printers tray displays. Figuring out which shells to use, and where to arrange them is almost as much fun as finding them in the first place! The ultimate puzzle with no picture on the box.


Sanibel Shells

Someday, I hope I will have a box as big as Ben’s, chock-full of shells in trays. For now, I’ll just keep these on my walls.


Display of shells from Ramberg Beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

This Broom’s Not for Sweeping

blog, pnw & travel, sustainable living

Sweep the house with blossomed broom in May; sweep the head of the household away…

~ traditional rhyme of Sussex

It’s a familiar sight here at the threshold of June: driving along I-5, watching the bright spots of yellow burst out, a patch here, a dot there, until blam! The entire hillsides radiate sunshine hues. It can be mesmerizing, almost pretty, if you didn’t know better. On my latest drive from Portland to Seattle, the sky was dark and moody, with giant banks of clouds jutting across in thick lines. The darkness reached almost to the horizon, leaving just enough of a gap for the late evening sun to strain through. Burnt gold sunlight lit up massive patches of Scotch Broom against the sky.

Bamboozled by Beads

blog, creative

Jim walked in the door just as I commenced dumping baby food down the sink. I told him not to ask, and continued with my task. I had just tried to clear my guilty conscience of spending too much at the bead store (yet again) by finding the cheapest housing I could for my new beads. Baby food is only $.89 at Met Market, and they are actually really good little jars. The only problem is: they’re full of mushed peas and squashed carrots and liquefied pears. Not exactly the sort of thing you’d want to add to your morning smoothie, so I did something that would probably have my maternal grandmother rolling over in her… urn, and dumped the food down the sink so I could use the jars.

Monday Creations

blog, creative, pnw & travel

As those of you who got my newsletter last week know, I had the pleasure of attending a meet-and-greet and workshop with the artist behind “Flora Forager” on Saturday!


She is Bridget Beth Collins, and she creates unique collages of botanical materials – sometimes portraits, sometimes woodland scenes, sometimes animals. As the name suggests, most of the materials she uses she collects from around her neighborhood in Seattle, with a few exceptions like fruit or cut flowers.

Monday Creations

blog, creative

Among my many unemployable skillsets is one in particular that I have been doing for a long, long time. Building faerie houses, you might say, has been my life’s work. When no one would play with me and hiding in the bathroom every single recess in third grade was no longer an option, I wandered to the far corner of the schoolyard and built faerie houses under the trees. My cousin and I built faerie houses all through our youth, and into our teenhood. When I became a preschool teacher and eventually a nanny, it became a pastime that I was able to teach little kids.

Licorice Fern

blog, photography, pnw & travel, sustainability

I remember the first time I read the word “licorice fern.” It was stamped clearly into the stone wall of one of the staircases at Multnomah Falls.


I had recently emigrated to the west side of Oregon from the high desert of the east side of the state, for school, so I was taking every opportunity of exploring the lush green land of my fantasies. The licorice fern was to become a major staple in my life, though I hardly knew it at the time. On this particular trip to Multnomah Falls I was accompanied by my dad, who was also glad for a change of scenery and came to visit me at school fairly often.

So What’s New?

blog, photography, pnw & travel

In 2018, it’s pretty difficult to imagine that there’s any chance in being unique. Most of the places on earth have been thoroughly scoured and studied and most of the species on earth have had names slapped on them.

I think I realized this as a kid, because I used to play a game with myself, which was trying to imagine who else had stood on the spot that I was standing. The more lonely the spot, the more fun the game, of course. Out in Eastern Oregon, it would be some pioneer woman on the Oregon Trail. On the coast, some explorer or cartographer.