Sand Dollars, Bleach, and a Hot Tub

Sand Dollars, Photo by Cecilia Kennedy

Rare and elusive, the sand dollar—in its whole form and not broken—is so valuable to me that I truly believe I could use at least five of them to pay outright for a hot tub:

Me: Hi, there. I’ll take the Hot Bubbles 2020 Executive Model Spa.

Sales Clerk: That’s a top-of-the-line pick—nice choice! Now, we have many payment options. Do any of these interest you?

Me: Oh, no. I have something better: These FIVE sand dollars.

And that’s how I’ll get my hot tub—with the five sand dollars Alex found when he stayed at his friend’s grandparents’ beach condo in Blaine, Washington last weekend. When Nate and I picked Alex up, his friend’s mom showed us the beachfront property and when I saw all of the sand dollars Alex collected—so easily when the tide was out, I clutched my chest, held onto the wall and shouted, “Wow! Do you know how rare these are?” Then, I grabbed Alex’s friend’s mom by the shoulders and shook her while yelling hysterically, “Do you know what this means? It means you’re filthy stinking rich!”

She laughed politely, but I think I may have scared away a new friend—one who introduced me to the wonders of Blaine, Washington and now I must go back and get as many as I can stuff into Nate’s shorts, because I carry enough of everyone else’s things in my purse. Nate can offer his shorts for once.

Apparently, the beach is just littered with these treasures. When I was younger, my parents used to take me to Florida, where I would pick up every slimy, broken shell and try to lug it home in a plastic bucket. When my dad looked over and saw my bucket, bursting at the seems with more crap he’d have to take home in the car—more “crap” that would probably smell all the way back to Ohio— he told me about the sand dollar, which was the only “shell” worth collecting in his opinion. He made it sound so magical and rare that I tossed my bucket on the sand right there and then and said, “Show me this thing now.” We wandered the St. Petersburg coast all day and all night, but could only find broken sand dollars. Then, at literally the last minute of our last day on the beach, we found one. “It’s a miracle!” I’d shouted. I had no idea that hundreds and thousands of these miracles were sold in gift shops right nearby—all shiny and white and new. However, finding them, to me, was more satisfying than buying them. For this reason, I really must go back to Blaine and find some on my own. That’s why I have at least the first three weeks of summer planned:

–Strawberry picking

–Seeing orcas

–Collecting sand dollars

I don’t have to do these things in that order, but if I did them all in one day, I really think I could actually explode from the intense amounts of happiness emanating from so many delightful things. In fact, I’m finding it hard to breathe just imagining this wonder filled day right now, so I’d better pace myself.

Before reaching for the paper bag to help with my breathing, I’ll perform a much “calmer” activity by bleaching and preserving the sand dollars Alex has found. I’ve decided to only bleach/preserve two of the five sand dollars because if I ruin them, I’ve only ruined two—not all five. The Huntington Island State Park website has some handy tips for cleaning and bleaching sand dollars, so I tried them out and am passing along the tips here:

1) Find dead, not live sand dollars. It’s illegal to pick up live ones. I didn’t even know that there was anything living inside the sand dollar and now I can’t stop thinking about the thing that has shriveled up and died and really, really stinks.

Me: Hey, Nate—what’s the thing that lives inside the sand dollar?

Nate: I don’t know. There’s a hole. Do you see it?

Me: Yeah—so what does that mean?

Nate: That’s where it lives or breathes.

Me: That answer just tells me where it is. What is it?

Nate shrugs his shoulders and leaves the room and so now I must go through the arduous task of searching for the answer on the internet, which takes one exhausting minute. According to invertebrate zoologist, Christopher L. Mah, the animal inside a sand dollar is a sea urchin. The sea urchins that lived inside the sand dollars I am attempting to preserve smell of the ocean—not the warm, salty breeze interpretation of air fresheners—but the stench of rotting fish or echinoderms in this case. So, I must proceed to step number two below:

2) Let the sand dollar sit in fresh, cold water. If the water turns brown, empty it and repeat the process until the water is no longer brown.

3) Drain the water and fill it with a small amount of bleach.   I used almost less than a quarter cup in my case. Then, the sand dollar(s) can soak in the solution for 15-20 minutes, but no longer because the fragile material can disintegrate in bleach if soaked for too long.

4) Let the sand dollars rest in the sun, which is nearly impossible here in Western Washington. The sun is shining more and more these days, but there are long stretches of gray clouds and sprinkles of rain in between. As a result, the sand dollars are still moist and smelly—even after two days. They’re also a little brown and not white. Once they are dry, I could harden them with a mixture of white glue and water, according to the Huntington Island State Park website. I can’t wait for that day. I’m still waiting.

Some people though, take things a bit further. I’ve seen some beautifully preserved and painted sand dollars, but I’ve also seen creations that cross over to the “wacky” side through just the addition of googly eyes. Here’s how I imagine this happens. It starts with an innocent walk along the beach and a couple, perhaps named Mars and Myrtle (I’m terrible with names), spot a sand dollar:

Mars: Look—it’s beautiful!

Myrtle: Yes, but where’s the whimsy? It’s so serious.

Mars: I see what you mean.

Myrtle: I know what could help: Googly eyes.

Mars: Yes-that’s it—that’s what’s missing!

Myrtle: And a smiley face—drawn in with a Sharpie.

Mars: Oh, and there has to be a silly tongue hanging out of the mouth.

Myrtle: I don’t see why not.

But I do. If my sand dollars would ever dry, I definitely wouldn’t put googly eyes on them. I have a hot tub to pay for.

Your Turn: What’s your favorite thing to collect?





25 thoughts on “Sand Dollars, Bleach, and a Hot Tub

  1. Sand dollars are my favorite shell also. I was on Anclote Key a few year ago and for every wave there were several Sand Dollars that washed ashore. Most of them were broken, but I managed to find a few in perfect condition.

    I like the story behind sand dollars and I cracked one open to see the little doves inside.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re welcome! I absolutely love sand dollars, but I had no idea something was living inside of them–I learned something new too by doing this post. Thanks for stopping by!


  2. I mostly collect anything to do with dragons, but my pockets still have a couple of shells and a pretty rock in from a trip to the beach last week 😀
    I’ve lived near the beach all my life and never seen a sand dollar: They’re fascinating!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. How fortunate you are to live near the beach! I’m from Ohio originally and just moved to Washington state, where I get to visit beaches on a regular basis on the weekends, so I’m counting myself very lucky. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Another wonderful post! Funny how another persons simple question can spark a new realization about yourself, thank you! I had thought, “nope, don’t collect a single thing…never have” Then of the small containers, folders, and colourful tins of “little things” filled my mind. I do, I collect joyful wonder, small, tiny items of this-and-that from moments, celebrations, walks, and surprise gifts from nature, like humming bird egg shells after they hatch. I collected all of my children’s artwork and doodles. So, I collect joyful wonder, and periodically, enjoy them again in quiet moments. Thank you for your inspiration!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I collect anything that inspires me in natural world. I do have a collection of sand dollars (only a few small ones found by me on a Maine beach. The larger ones were all purchased from shops along East and West Coasts. I collect seashells, conifer cones, mushrooms, birds’ nests, wasp nests, rocks and so much more… I’ve even collected pieces of redwood and driftwood. When I was teaching (grades 4-8) I had all these wonders in the classroom and the kids treasured them as much as I do. Have a great time with your collecting! xo

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I didn’t realize how rare finding a sand dollar is. Given that info, I fully expect a person should be able to buy a hot tub with them! 😉

    I also didn’t know what lived inside a sand dollar. Truly fascinating creatures.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Found a couple when visiting Floridian friends in the 1970s. Took them back to the UK and had them for years. One was flat and round, one domed and one like an arrow shape, as I recall…

    Liked by 2 people

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