In the summers, when we were children, my brother and I built sandcastles by the shore. Our favored construction method was the dribble technique. Our grandfather showed us how to fill a pail with sand and water and drizzle the sloppy mixture though our fingers until a palace began to emerge. It reminded me of the rainbow of colored wax that dripped from the candles and covered wine bottles in my parent's favorite Mexican restaurant. Sometimes, we inverted pails and paper cups of sand one next to each other to build a fortress. We shoveled out deep moats and attempted to fill them with pails of sea water only to be absorbed by the sand again and again.

On Saturday May 11th, (with a rain date of the 12th), the Homes with Hope Castles in the Sand event will take place at Compo Beach. Families, groups and individuals can reserve sand lots in which they can build their dream castles. This is an event intended to raise funds and awareness. It is supposed to be a fun, creative way to spend time with people you like, to enjoy the lovely shore and to help others. And, the first time I signed up to participate in the event, that is exactly what I had in mind.

My children were small then, and we had a mesh basket in the garage filled with plastic shovels, pails, starfish molds and sieves. Why not sign up? It would be fun! We shared a lot with another family and arrived with every intention of letting the kids do the work. "So what if it's not perfect?" I said. "Let's let them do whatever they want and we'll just watch." The children were having a good time. They scooped and shoveled, pilled and tromped around our designated square of sand, while in the adjacent lots masterpieces were being formed.

I wanted to let them enjoy themselves. I did. I was trying to keep my competitiveness in check. But, let's be honest. They were making no progress. They were making piles and stepping on them. I tried to give gentle and helpful advice at first. "Maybe if you start out with a base..." and "The sand has to be a little bit wet..." The people in the plot to our right were misting their emerging mermaid sculpture with spray-bottles of water. Then, I tried to demonstrate. "Like this..." I patted the sand we had moistened with water from the sound into a rugged lump. No one was impressed. I tried to relax and enjoy, while the guys behind worked on their lifelike sea serpent.

But, I couldn't last. I ushered everyone under the age of 8 outside of our lot altogether. "Over here! Outside of these ropes and markers, this is your special space now." I asked my mother who was visiting to watch them while the other adults and I came up with a plan. It was a competition after all. We went with a traditional fairy tale castle. Something a sandy Cinderella might have almost enjoyed.

I am still ashamed to say that we didn't win. I like to blame our missed victory on those wasted first minutes.

My kids are getting older now, and if I had been more organized, maybe we could have trained in sand castle construction in the last few years, we might have a real shot at winning. Meanwhile, should you choose to participate, don't underestimate the competition and always use the wet sand.

Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at