Thursday, October 30, 2008

Taking Fun to the Heights: Parasailing on Sanibel Island

Now, let me start off by saying to all who know me as acrophobic, that the whole concept of being up in the air with no real anchor to the ground does not--- on the face of it---- appeal to me.

But friends of ours, Steve and Leslie, who have also rented from us, stayed on Sanibel Island with their two sons, Willy and Chris. They did go parasailing on one fine day and were able to describe the adventure in such a way, that, at the very least, I would consider it.

First, I had to be educated between the difference in parasailing and paragliding, never having done either. But as the paraglide "launch" must be from the top of a mountain or hill, I don't think any such feat could be accomplished on Sanibel.

Sanibel Island has a lot of lovely things, but there is not a hill or mountain to be found. There is not even a chance of jumping from a building on Sanibel as the building code does not allow structures any higher than the Island's palm trees.

So, as it was told, parasailing is that thing people do sitting in a seat attached to a boat. The air current as the boat speeds off lifts the seated thrill seekers into the air, up, up, up into the air.

According to my friends who had parasailed in Cancun, Mexico the Sanibel experience was less intimidating as the parasail seat sits on a platform and the launch and landing are done on the platform. In Cancun, they were launched and landed in the water, not always smoothly, according to Steve who says he nearly drowned being dragged through the water in an attempt to launch.

While Steve abstained from the parasail experience on Sanibel and took pictures from the boat instead, Leslie, Willy and Chris were given the choice of doing their "sails" individually or together. Like the loving family they are, they opted to go together, and only had raves for the experience.

So, thanks to Leslie and the boys, I have a newfound interest in the parasail experience though my fear is not totally dissipated.

And, no, it's not fear of the heights, it's the cost that makes me tremble.

In this economy, I would have to think twice if I would spend the $125 or more to take a gander at Sanibel from the air!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Scoop on Sanibel Shelling

Bringing home a little bit of Sanibel with you will provide memories to last a life time!

My hesitation to concentrate on the shelling in writing about Sanibel is that everyone knows that fact. Sanibel is considered one of the three best places in the entire world to go shelling. Although it is in third place, the first two, the Pacific Islands and Africa are a little remote for the majority of visitors who come to Sanibel. So Sanibel attracts shell collectors from all over the country and as well as outside of the country.

While there are many, many things that distinguish Sanibel Island as a
resort vacation destination, it is undeniable that the quality of shelling sets it apart.

It is also worth mentioning that many of Sanibel's shells are simply
works of art.

A fruitful day on the beach is not just entertaining, it is a treasure hunt that can result in a wonderful find.

But first the treasure hunter needs to be prepared to make the most of the shelling experience and protect the shells found and gathered.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that live shells are not allowed in your shell collection. Because seashells are important to the islands' chain of life, and because Sanibel and Captiva are refuge islands where all life is considered precious, the State of Florida has outlawed the collecting of live shells on the island. "Live shell" is defined as any specimen containing an inhabitant, whether or not the mollusk seems alive. The law also protects sand dollars, starfish and sea urchins. All shelling is prohibited in J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Aside from avoiding collecting live shells, it is best for the Island ecology not to try to remove buckets of shells from the beaches. It is also best for you. Not only are the shells an example of your cup runneth over when you arrive home with lots of shells and no where to keep them, shell collections are best viewed as "less is more". In the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of famed aviator, Charles Lindbergh, the shells of Sanibel and Captiva should be viewed as individual pieces: "One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few."

There are few places in the world where you can bring home such beauty from a vacation, and all for free!

So with a cautionary and conservation philosophy in mind, here are the essentials of shell collecting:

Be Prepared. Bring a bucket, a net bag and a scoop, and plenty of sun lotion as well as a hat if it is a hot, sunny day (as most days are on Sanibel!).

Shell at low tide preferably and after a storm to find the maximum number of shells and maximum variety.

Soak shells in a 50/50 solution of water and bleach, few hours or overnight. If any barnacles or other matter is left remove with a pick or toothbrush. To make shells shine wipe with mineral oil or baby oil.

You may collect sand dollars but first check to make sure that the sand dollar is not alive - turn it over - there are little centipede feet up and down the backside - gently touch them with your finger to see if they move and its alive. If alive gently place back into the water and if they do not move, then you have just found one of the islands treasures!

To bleach a sand dollar white it is important to soak in fresh water first. Water will be a brownish color, change water frequently until fairly clear or just continually flush with water until water stays fairly clear. Soak in a 50/50 solution of bleach and water for 5-10 minutes. Do not soak too long in bleach solution as sand dollar may crumble. Rinse throughly, let dry preferably in sun to bleach further. To harden sand dollar for crafts or display: Mix equal portions of white glue and water. With paint brush cover sand dollar with mixture. Let dry.

As mentioned in a much earlier blog post, Sanibel Island is renowned for its great shelling. The phrase "Sanibel Stoop" refers to the many people you will see all year long bent over collecting shells from the beach.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sanibel Is the Perfect Place to Home School

The statistics on home schooling are pretty amazing.

The state of Florida alone had over 56,000 learning at home in 2007, up from 10,039 in the 1991-92 school year.

There are controversial aspects to home schooling. Many towns and cities in Florida and across the country complain about the loss of per pupil funding. Educators point to the "brain drain" with some of the most affluent and articulate parents no longer involved in public education. Others challenge whether parents as a whole have the skills to teach. And social scientists question whether the home school environment sufficiently prepares children for the diversity of democratic living or adequately socializes them for main stream USA.

But according to a study done at the University of Florida for the home schooled child there is much to gain. The study found home schoolers were generally more patient and less competitive. They tended to introduce themselves to one another more; they didn't fight as much. And the home schoolers were much more prone to exchange addresses and phone numbers.

For now, home schooling is still growing, and it's no longer confined to a fringe that may never have believed in the idea of public education. People from all political and social strata are discovering the benefits of home schooling.

Of course, home schooling is not for every family. The necessity of at least one parent being home for the concept to work would eliminate the opportunity for many moms and dads who work out of the home. And no doubt there are an enormous amount of resources required for home schooling to function well.

But the benefits are numerous, including the opportunity for the family not to be tied to summer months or winter holidays to vacation. And off season vacations are generally less expensive, so there is cost savings as well as flexibility built into the holiday,

We have had several home school families stay at our vacation rental house and vacation rental condo on Sanibel for anywhere from a week to several months. Those who stayed for extended periods were able to do so as the parents worked from home. But both groups wrote back to say how wonderful the experience was. In a few instances the experience was so good that the families decided to make Sanibel their home, and bought their own properties.

Sanibel is a small community and for the home schooling family, it is easy to meet other home schoolers who can become part of a play group or study group.

In addition, there are many organizations on the Island that have classes, projects and courses that are available all year round during the week as well as week-ends. The learning that takes place in these venues become a study unit of great interest to both the student and parent.

And, of course, for home schoolers or any one visiting the island, the environment provides for spontaneous and natural learning. Children and adults exploring Sanibel are guaranteed to find a wealth of discovery on a daily basis.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Feeding the Hungry on Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island is a lovely place to visit or live, and the chances are pretty good that the only empty mouths to feed are these darling Anhinga chicks photographed by Dick Fortune and Sara Lopez.

But the economic comfort of the Island does not preclude its involvement in helping those who certainly need a meal of more substantial dimensions than what the mommy Anhinga is feeding her beautiful babies.

Which brings us to the Harry Chapin Food Bank.

When the food bank made a run last winter to Sanibel it wasn't to gather seashells.

Instead, it picked up 324 more pounds of food for the Food Bank, thanks to the Sanibel-Captiva Vacation Rental Managers Association. That makes nearly 6,700 pounds of food donated since the program’s inception two years ago.

That’s when VIP Vacation Rentals began collecting non-perishable food left by guests. When Keith McMenamy of VIP and Randy Bacik, President of Royal Shell Vacations, formed the association, now with nine rental companies as members, they knew they could really expand food donations.

Guests’ check-in packet describes the program and how to drop off non-perishable goods at the end of their stay. Bailey’s General Store provides reinforced paper bags with handles at no cost.

Each vacation rental manager brings the donated food to a central location, and from there it’s off to the Food Bank warehouse for sorting and distribution.

The guests can feel a sense of contribution in giving excess food purchased during their stay to those who need it most.

But the giving does not end there on Sanibel, where volunteers who live on and off the island give substantially to various organizations.

For example, in addition to supporting C.R.O.W. (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife on Sanibel) with donations of their photography over the last several years, Dick Fortune and Sara Lopez have lent a hand in other ways. Fortune's flooring company graciously provided and supervised the flooring materials and installation for the construction of C.R.O.W.’s new Wildlife Education Center and Hospital in Sanibel.

C.R.O.W.’s on-going dedication and efforts to rehabilitate injured, orphaned or displaced animals go hand in hand with Sanibel’s high level of environmental awareness and community pride.

There will be future blog posts on volunteers and volunteerism on Sanibel Island and how vacationers--- as well as residents--- can support the good work of Sanibel non profit organizations.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sanibel Sings the Jimmy Buffet Song Book

Before my husband and I went to Sardinia, Italy on a home exchange, I read several books about the Island. One of those was DH Lawrence's non fictional account of he and his wife Frieda's nine day exploration of Sardinia.

Though often critical of what he found, Lawrence made the people and environment interesting enough that even his rudest comments only enticed me more to experience the place for myself.

When we finally did arrive on Sardinia, though our trip did not duplicate the Lawrence's precisely, I did recall descriptions from The Sea and Sardinia each place we arrived.

Similarly, when travelling around
Sanibel and the area, I think of Jimmy Buffet constantly. The only connection between Jimmy Buffet and the Sanibel area that I found documented was his time on Cabbage Key where he supposedly wrote Cheeseburger in Paradise.

But despite the lack of documentation, there are so many
spots on Sanibel and nearby where I can clearly envision the great songwriter strumming his guitar and composing.

Like, at dusk on Santiva watching the sun set and creating the Lyrics for "Margaritaville".

I can literally see the young Buffet at the helm of his ship sailing over San Carlos Bay and singing "Son of a Son of Sailor".

And a slightly more mature Jimmy, along with some friends, exploring the mangroves of Pine Island harmonizing to "A Pirate Looks at Forty".

There are no end of JB images an aging Parrothead can see on Sanibel for this prolific song writer. With
72 albums and hundreds of songs behind him, the great Buffet has created an incredible song book. And there is no better place to hear the songs than on Sweet Sanibel.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

November Activities on Sanibel

Sanibel is the place to relax and de-stress. Forget the floundering economy and come see why Sanibel Island has become a world class vacation destination!

November is another great month on Sanibel. Lovely weather with the ability to be outdoors all day and night make the 11th month a perfect time to >visit the island. And there are some fun things to do as well.

The following activities are suggested on the

November 115th Annual Esperanza Woodring Castnet Rodeo. A family event where children and adults throw castnets at moving and stationary targets. Prizes are given to all children entrants. The first place winner in the adult category will receive a $500 prize. Refreshments will be available. Free Lessons & Demonstrations: 8:00am to 9:00am. Children's Competition Begins: 9:30am. Adult Competition Begins: 1:00pm. The fun takes place at The Bait Box, 1041 Periwinkle Way. Call 239.472.1618 or go to for more information and a registration form

November 1 - 2 Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival. A fall festival designed for canoe and kayak enthusiasts as well as eco-tourists, the festival that celebrates Southwest Florida's 100 mile marked paddling trail, the Great Calusa Blueway. This year's Festival will comprise a countywide series of events and activities across the trail, including: kayak fishing tournaments, several canoe/kayak races, paddling demonstrations, live music and festival events, guided tours, children's activities and archaeological and enviromental events. Head to for more information.

November 1 - 8 We Love A Piano. Join the gang at the Schoolhouse Theater as they kick off the ' 08 - ' 09 season with an Irving Berlin musical revue! Visit for ticket information.

November 5 - November 921st Annual American Sandsculpting Championship Festival, Ft. Myers Beach. Well worth the drive, this competition attracts premier sandsculptors from across the country. You won't believe what they can create!! Located on Estero Island's south end, with well-marked parking and a free shuttle. Fantastic for all ages - don't forget your camera! Go to or call 866.916.SAND for more info.

November 13 - 30 Play OnWritten by Rick Abbot and presented by The Schoolhouse Theater, this hilarious story of a community theater group trying desperately to put on a play in spite of maddening interference from a haughty author who keeps revising the script up to the day of the performance. Act I is a rehearsal of the dreadful show. Act II is the near disastrous dress rehearsal and the actual performance in which anything that can go wrong does. Visit for ticket information

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Where to go off Island: A Sanibel Day Trip Guide

There are dozens of side trips that can be made from Sanibel, if, indeed, you are willing to leave Paradise.

For most travellers who come to Sanibel Island for a week or two, a trip off island is of no interest. As mentioned in an earlier blog post there are many things to do on island and many boating excursions to other islands right from Sanibel. Why leave Sanibel at all, and especially by automobile?

But for renters who spend a month or more on island, there may come a time when they just have to explore.

And there are several nice destinations that one can drive to in relatively short time that really offer something different.

Very near and off island on stunning McGregor Boulevard, an avenue of Royal Palms, are the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. These are not lavish homes, but the homes and the grounds are beautifully maintained and give the visitor a good sense of the area in the times when Thomas Edison and Henry Ford frequented. Most definitely deserving of the 30 minute or less drive from Sanibel.

Heading south, it is worth a drive into Naples to visit the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Although it is unlikely you will see any animals or birds you can not see on Sanibel, the environment at Corkscrew Swamp is very unique. The perfect eco balance of the swamp keeps it mosquito free....or at least seemingly so. It's a nice micro environment of the whole of Florida , only 1.5 hours, from Sanibel, and one which the visitor can experience in a comfortable and quick trip.

And, if you really want a special treat, drive north up to Sarasota to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. This truly is worth the 2 hour drive, though you may want to consider staying overnight near by to better see all the exhibits. The Ringling's home on beautiful Sarasota Bay, Ca d'Zan Mansion, is a lavish estate filled with art and decorative pieces purchased by the Ringlings. In addition to the art and decorative pieces in Ca d'Zan, there is a separate museum of fine art on the grounds which features some splendid work by Titian, Veronese, Rubens, Hals, and Velazquez. But perhaps the most charming aspect of the Ringling Museum is the miniature circus on the gounds.

The Howard Brothers Circus model is a replica of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1919 – 1938. Complete with eight main tents, 152 wagons, 1,300 circus performers and workers, more than 800 animals and a 59-car train, the model is built in ¾-inch-to-the-foot scale replica and occupies 3,800 square feet. The “world’s largest miniature circus” was created over a period of more than 50-years by master model builder and philanthropist Howard Tibbals. It is absolutely amazing and if you really wanted to pay attention to all the details, it could absorb hours of your time.

Of course, you can always forgo any trip off island and plant yourself into the sand on Bowman's Beach. And who would blame you?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sanibel Spells Discovery For Children of All Ages

I just finished reading one of the best books I have ever read. Lent to me casually by a friend who just handed it over and said "I think you will like this book", I was engrossed, engaged, enchanted, entertained and enlightened with every word.

Entitled My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, the book is a true story of an English family who leave the cold and damp of England for the sunny climes of Greece.

The person telling the story is Durrell himself, now an adult looking back, but at the time of the story telling he was an eight year old in the late 1930's. Durrell who grew into adulthood to become a noted zoologist and entomologist certainly got a big boost in his studies on Corfu.

Amazingly, his interest in and enthusiasm for the animals, birds and, especially, insects and amphibians, on the Island are so simply and delightfully told that the reader is just caught up with one "adventure" after another, never feeling the slightest bit of boredom with the non-human world. And, when humans do enter the picture, Durrell's mother and brothers and sister or the locals of Corfu, they bring such a wacky charm with them that you welcome and not reject their presence.

So what has this all got to do with taking a vacation on Sanibel Island?

The answer is all in the word discovery.

Little Gerry may not be typical of every child every where, but certainly a little bit of Gerry does exist in every child every where.

Gerry had no need or opportunity for soccer, little league baseball, meet ups at the mall or computer games. His whole world, and it is a magical and amazing world, is in the birds, the bees, the frogs and sea birds he encounters and claims as his own. And because he is on his own so much of the time, he actually enjoys the times he is
with the grown-ups as he feels he has something of value to talk to them about.

Sanibel Island, too, offers
a world of discovery. How many places are left where an 8 year old can do some roaming on their own? How many places are left where there are discoveries to be made at every turn?

Recognizing that it is not the 1930's, that parenting has changed enormously, that Sanibel is a much more popular and touristed island in the year 2008 than Corfu was in 1933, some things do not change.

The quintessential Sanibel is still a natural universe, one that can fully cater to your child's (and your!) sense of awe. It just takes the time and planning to get there to allow the natural curiosity of a child to emerge.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sanibel History: What's in a Name?

In an earlier blog, I wrote about the genesis of Sanibel Island and the efforts of the Calusa Indians to create a sustaining life on this lovely little island. That's not to say the Calusa were living in total peace. The Calusa Indians were originally called the "Calos" which means "Fierce People", and that name and historical references certainly indicate that not all was harmonious in the days of the Calusa.

But, at least they did exist without external intervention. Well, as it goes in the world, the comfortable society that the Calusa's created for themselves was disassembled with the battles with other tribes as well as the arrival of foreign conquerors. In addition, diseases such as smallpox and measles were brought into the area from the Spanish and French explorers and these diseases wiped out entire villages.

The Spanish, in particular, left their mark as is evidenced through out the state of Florida.

The link between Spanish settlement in the USA and the state of Florida's nomenclature for towns throughout is quite clear. We know the punta's and boca's of Florida originated with the Spanish words for point and mouth. There are numerous examples of the Spanish presence in every part of Florida, but perhaps no more intriguing than the names Sanibel and Captiva.

Famous explorer Juan Ponce de Leon is believed to have discovered Sanibel Island – which he named “Santa Isybella” after Queen Isabella -- in 1513 while searching for his “Fountain of Youth.” He and his Spanish seamen battled the hostile Calusas for years, and Ponce de Leon eventually suffered a fatal arrow attack at their hands in 1523, at which time he retreated to Cuba and died.

According to legend, Sanibel and Captiva Island soon became a haven for infamous pirates. “The Buccaneer Coast” attracted the notorious Jose Gaspar to the region in the early 1800s, where it was rumored that he buried his stolen treasure on Sanibel, and then built a prison on “Isle de los Captivas,” or Captiva Island, where he kept his female prisoners “captive” for ransom. Gaspar himself was captured in 1821 by the U.S. Navy, but wrapped himself in chains and jumped overboard off his ship, rather then face imprisonment.

Interesting origins for these calm and beckoning barrier Islands!