So we are home from the conference. We are exhausted.
My session on laying ceramic tile went extremely well. I had approximately 9 people there - and since I had anticipated a crowd of maybe four or five, it was a bit of a free-for-all. A couple of the people had laid tile before and they were able to help the others who had never had the pleasure. My dear friend Lis showed up and helped me run and fetch and clean tools and keep everybody on track and up to speed. I would truly have been lost without her. The fine folks at Women Unlimited poked in occasionally to see how things were going and someone took a ton of pictures. I'll try to post them here as soon as I get my mitts on them. They're all a little fried today. I'm not going to push.
So we took eight or nine women, some of whom had never so much as picked up a tile before, and we got 'em messy, covered in glue and grout, and no longer afraid of tiles. First we had them spread the mastic (big word for tile glue) on some boards, then they laid out the tiles, using the spacers. Once the tiles were stuck down, we put aside those boards and got out the boards with tile already on them. They selected the color grout they wanted and we mixed it up with water. I got the measurements wrong on the water, so we had some fudging to do, but we got it worked out. Then we had to let the grout sit for 10 minutes while the Portland cement in it did its chemistry thing. During that time, I answered questions as best I could, admitting it when I simply didn't know. I explained how important it is for the surface you're sticking the tiles to to be extremely solid so that there were no shifts and tweaks with the seasons - those will crack the grout and allow water to leak in and rot wood, etc. I talked about the different kinds of tiles and how to cut and chip with the little plier nippers to make cutouts for pipes and faucets and such.
When our grout was cured enough, we mixed it again and then spread it on the pre-laid tiles. Everyone had different tiles to work with, so everyone had a little different experience, but I noticed that they all seemed to be checking out how the others were doing and commenting on the differences and similarities. (I made sure we all wore gloves to save our fingers from the chemicals in the grout.) Then we wiped down the tile boards, exposing the finished product. Everyone seemed very pleased with how their efforts came out, and then - bless them all - they helped clean up so the next session could come in and learn in a room that was not trashed. We had it cleaned up sufficiently and on time and they left exhilarated at their new-found skills. I left thrilled that we would not be billed for a carpet.
One of the most poignant encounters of the day involved a woman who helped me out when I was setting up the session. She worked in housekeeping, cleaning rooms and doing traditional housekeeping stuff at the hotel. She spoke with some of the Women Unlimited folks upstairs, she told me, and asked for a job bank application. She helped me change the room around to accommodate a messy project, found me some extra trash bags, and even got me access to an empty hotel room across the hall so we could fill our rinse pails in the tub there and dump the dirty water into the toilet. She hustled around to help me. I never got her name, but she was a lifesaver that morning.
I could tell she was interested in what we were doing by her eyes. They were curious and almost jealous - there was wonder and yearning in them. I got the feeling that she was not really thrilled with her lot, cleaning rooms in a hotel in Augusta, Maine. Looking around her, she saw lots of women doing lots of things that were more interesting and pretty much guaranteed to pay more than whatever it is that she's making now. The wheels were nearly visible, turning in her head as we went about the conference and she went about her housekeeping tasks.
I learned later from the Women Unlimited staff that she returned after her break with the job bank application all filled out. She wants to be a part of what she saw that weekend. She wants to do something more meaningful than scrubbing hotel toilets and making beds. She wants to make better money, she wants to have the skills and confidence she saw Saturday at that conference.
It is my hope that we see her again at next year's conference, wearing boots and Carharts and talking about her first season working on a road crew or with a flagging operation or operating some kind of equipment. From the look I saw in her eye, I think it is a real possibility.
God, but that is why I love Women Unlimited. Women Unlimited changes lives. Period. It is what they do. It gives hope and opportunity in places where no one else has offered such things.
If you are interested in helping them continue to perform miracles, get in touch with them HERE and make a donation. If you're not long on money, that's OK. Little donations are good too, as are materials. They always have a list of stuff they need. Hand tools, lumber, odds & ends. Check them out. Give if you can. Tell 'em Dawn sent you. They'll know you're OK.
And yeah, I made a fancy speech on Saturday night at the banquet. I'll write about that tomorrow. I am still processing it all. And stay tuned for pictures, too.