Travel Lessons on Living with Abandon

Swimming in CroatiaThere’s something freeing about buying a plane ticket, grabbing your carry-on bags and your passport and heading to a foreign country with no concrete plans in place. It forces you to live in the moment instead of wallowing in the past or looking forward to the future.

It’s so very difficult to live with abandon when you’re in your normal daily life. There are work deadlines, soccer practices, schools functions, and bills to pay, which forces us to be on a schedule constantly.

The next time you travel, don’t have a plan. Book a room for the first night you arrive and leave the rest open for adventure.

Hvar, Croatia: Fast Ferries, Fast Times

Hvar Ferry“I don’t know why everyone is panicking,” is not what you want to hear from a ferry boat steward when you’re bobbing around in the Adriatic Sea.

We had arrived at the harbor in Split at 3pm after a long day of driving from Dubrovnik to Mostar (Bosnia) and then to Split. Our driver had a quick chat with a man on the ferry dock and assured us the next ferry to Hvar (pronounced Huar) was at 4pm. Fantastic. Only an hour to kill before heading to our island paradise.

We walked up to the ticket window to buy tickets and were informed that the next ferry was leaving at 6pm not 4pm. We paid the extra Kuna (Croatian currency) for the “fast” boat, which would get us to Hvar in one hour instead of two, and then tried to decide what to do for the next three hours.

The walkway along the harbor was dotted with cafes, touristy trinket kiosks, a bus station, and a lot of students sporting backpacks. It was 96 degrees and smelled like a combination of cigarettes and hippies. We settled on a cafe that had shade and the fewest people smoking.

The only food options were sandwiches and savory pastries that looked like they had been sitting in the full sun all day, but what are you gonna do. We killed the next three hours eating lukewarm pigs in a blanket type pastries, drinking Coke Zero and coffee and trying to forget how hot it was.

We randomly met a Scottish guy named Stevie based on the fact that we needed each other to watch our bags while we took turns going to the pay toilet. Note to self: always carry 5 Kuna in coins, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch or a free pee in Croatia.

At 5:30pm we started noticing that people were starting to line up for the ferries, so we happily jumped up and walked over to the pier with Scottish Stevie. We got in line for the first boat we came to and got halfway through the line before someone told us the boat was going to Vis not Hvar.

We finally found the right line for the right boat and joined the queue. It was not one of the big lumbering ferries that you can drive cars onto, but a sleek catamaran that looked like an Airbus inside. And the A/C was on! Oh happy day. We each grabbed an aisle seat so as not to get trapped between anyone who hadn’t showered in a week, or anyone who looked like they might be the seasick type.

As soon as the boat got underway Stevie offered to buy a round of drinks. “What do you want? Gin and tonic? Vodka? Wine?” he said. “I don’t know,” I said. “Surprise me.”

When Stevie finally returned he had a bottle of water, a Coke Zero, a beer and a glass of white wine. “What happened to the gin and the vodka option?” I asked. He explained, “I asked for a gin and tonic. They were out of gin. They told me they had vodka, so I asked for a vodka tonic. No tonic. I asked what mixers they had, and they said Orangina. So I got you a glass of white wine.” You can always trust a Scottish guy when it comes to booze.

Just as I was beginning to enjoy my glass of wine we started to hit some chop. The further we got from Split the worse it got. The guy next to me was fanning his girlfriend who looked like she was going to blow at any minute. It was 6:50pm, and we were supposed to arrive at 7pm, so we all figured we could keep our lunch down for 10 more minutes. Then the boat started to slow down.

When a ferry starts to slow down it usually means one of two things: you’re close to port, or you’ve lost power and the captain is about to hand out oars. I decided to survey the situation, and when I stood up to look out the window over the bow I could see we were still miles away from Hvar.

We were all speculating as to why we were cruising at less than warp speed when one of the uniformed stewards came by and said, “I don’t know why everyone is panicking. One of the engines sucked in a piece of wood and had to be shut down, so we are only using one engine right now.” Well thank goodness we didn’t hit a body. It was just a piece of wood. We were limping along on one engine, and our “fast” boat was now a slow boat that turned the 1-hour cruising time into almost two.

We did finally make it to the port of Hvar under our own power, disembarked with a throng of 20-somethings on holiday, and realized we had just landed ourselves in the middle of Croatia’s version of Cabo during Spring Break. My girlfriend and I silently wondered if we had made the right decision, booking five days on Hvar. On the other hand, young Scottish Stevie announced (with a huge smile on his face) that he was going to call his boss and ask for an extra week off.

Single Parents Can’t Take Sabbaticals

Sabbatical buried under laundry

Sabbatical or a sabbatical (from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from two months to a year.

Sometime back in the dreary days of Portland in February I was sitting at my desk and wondering what it would be like to take the summer off. I mean really take the summer off. Go on runs whenever I felt like it, sleep in past 6am, get a new stamp in my passport. In general, answer to no one.

So I gave my notice. My last day in the office was a Friday, April 18th.

I was giddy with visions of all of the “Me” time I was going to have, until the alarm rang at 6am the following Monday morning, and again on Tuesday, and Wednesday, and you get the picture.

It was then I realized that single parents can’t take sabbaticals. There’s no such thing as a sabbatical from parenthood. The only difference between the working me and the sabbatical me was I had more time to do laundry. I was still spending my mornings getting kids to school, and my afternoons picking them up and shuttling them to their various after-school activities.

The fact that I couldn’t escape my environment was killing my sabbatical. My morning, afternoon and evening routines were exactly the same as they had been when I was working full time. The only difference? I was doing laundry and running errands on weekdays during the middle of the day instead of cramming everything into my Saturdays.

So what did I do? Went back to work, well, sort of. I accepted a part-time contract writing job so I could fill the middle of my days with putting words on paper instead of putting dishes in a dishwasher. The thought of spending my entire summer driving my kids back and forth to dance and soccer, doing chores, and hearing, “I’m bored. What can I do?” was enough to scare me out of the house.

My fantasy of taking a real sabbatical was a total fail. But there is a small light at the end of the tunnel. My kids will be going to Australia with their dad for three whole weeks to visit their relatives. The first time in over 23 years that I have had three consecutive weeks to myself.

How much adventure can you cram into three weeks? I don’t know, but I aim to find out.

My Evening With Carol Burnett

CarolBurnettBeing a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has its perks, however, living in Portland makes it rather difficult to take advantage of most of them. Members of the Academy often get free passes to movie screenings, plenty of DVD screeners for TV shows during Emmys voting season and countless invitations to evening events where networks parade their stars on panels for every TV show you can think of.

I have been telling myself for years, one of these days I’ll buy a plane ticket and actually attend an event where I don’t have to wear an uncomfortable floor-length gown and heels. That event showed up in my Inbox on July 1, at 10:56am. The subject line was:

“An Evening With Carol Burnett – July 22.”

I immediately clicked through because I have tried to attend these events before, and my experience has been if you snooze you lose. I signed up, me +1. Yes, I agree I will really show up and you won’t be sorry you gave me these two seats. Submit.

The confirmation came back immediately, and then I panicked. I needed a plane ticket and I needed a plus-one. Think, think, who would actually buy a plane ticket to go see Carol Burnett with me? Wait a minute, who lives in SoCal who might want to go? Hmmmm.

I ended up taking my sister Shannon who lives in Laguna Beach. She picked me up at the Burbank Airport on Monday at 2:20pm, and we made our way to NoHo (North Hollywood) to try to find a place to eat and drink. After all, we had three hours to kill before heading over to the Academy.

We parked the car near the Academy and started walking around looking for a place that served decent food and had a bar. I had no idea this would be so difficult! After passing several restaurants that served burgers, pizza and soft drinks we noticed a sign on the sidewalk just down the road that said “$4 Margaritas.”

“Who cares what kind of food they have,” I said. “They have $4 margaritas!”

We sat at that bar in Bow & Truss for the next two and a half hours eating Mahi Mahi tacos, shrimp ceviche and an odd kale salad while Bartender Ben looked on and occasionally interjected. Oh, and we had a few margaritas and they were well worth the $4.

At 6:25pm we walked across the street to the Academy and got in the back of a line that snaked its way back and forth across the courtyard in front of the building. I had been warned to arrive an hour early if I wanted to ensure I got a seat, because they had given out way more tickets than they had seats in the theater. They often do this because so many people sign up but don’t show up. Not tonight.

We did get in, and we did get good seats, but if we had come any later we would have ended up in the overflow room with the other 100 people who didn’t get into the theater.

The lights dimmed promptly at 7:30pm, and the evening started with a short reel of clips that chronicled Carol’s history in television. Then the lights came up and the President of the Academy introduced Carol Burnett and the moderator/interviewer for the evening, Kristin Chenowith.

There isn’t enough room in this blog to hold all of the stories Carol told, but I will tell you that she did talk about growing up poor with her grandmother, roller skating in the hallway and the day she met Julie Andrews. And of course there were stories about Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and Vicki Lawrence. Wow. What a comedic team they were.

After about 45 minutes of chit chat with Kristin, Carol finally called for questions from the audience. I had spent the entire plane ride thinking up what I would ask her if they actually called on me and handed me the microphone. I really wanted to know what the boundaries were for sketch comedy on the major networks back in the day of the Carol Burnett Show.

The first person raised his hand, then the second, then the fifth. I was wiggling in my seat, do I raise my hand? Is it a stupid question? I just knew if I didn’t ask a question I would regret it. I noticed an attendant with a mic just a few rows down from me, made eye contact with her and shot my hand in the air like a 5-year old who has to pee. Okay, here she comes, now I really have to do this. Shit.

There were three more questions from the other side of the room before the woman handed me the mic, motioned for me to stand up, whispered something into her headset mic and told me I was next. Then she pointed at me at me in that silent TV way and mouthed the word “go.”

I swallowed hard and hoped something intelligent would come out when I opened my mouth.

“Hi Carol,” I called from 20 rows back, waving so she would know where the voice was coming from. “Were there ever any characters you wanted to play or skits you wanted to include on the show where the network just said no?” The audience mumbled in approval of the question. Oh yes, it was indeed a good question.

Carol paused for just a second and then she said, “No.” Silence.

Crap. This can’t be happening to me right now. Are you kidding me right now? Nothing? Never? Nada?

Then she continued. “Oh wait, there was this one sketch…” And she proceeded to tell the story of the sketch she and Harvey Korman did about a nudist camp. Her character was positioned behind a fence with just her feet and her head showing, and Harvey was on the other side talking to her about what it was like in the nudist camp. His line was something like, “Well how do you dance in a nudist camp?” And she responded, “Very carefully,” to which the network responded, “You can’t say that on TV.”

She said the best part was that the line they finally agreed on seemed even more suggestive than the one the network nixed in the first place. During the live taping when Harvey asked, “How do you dance in a nudist colony?” she answered, “Cheek to cheek.” Yes, really.

The story got lots of laughs, and I stood there grinning from ear to ear, holding that microphone like it was a stolen Emmy. Because I knew that as soon as I let go of that microphone my moment with Carol would be over.

There were a handful of questions after mine and then Carol and Kristin were gone. But for a few brief minutes that evening I felt like I, Kelly Jo Horton, was having a personal conversation with the legendary Carol Burnett.

Dear Mom, How did You Survive?

teenAngstI never got along with my mom. She always said I didn’t turn out the way she expected, and she never failed to remind me every chance she got. So when she passed away nine years ago I didn’t really miss her. Sounds cold and callous but it’s true. I don’t miss her criticisms but I miss the fact that I no longer have that historical link to my past.

Dear Mom,
Was I really this annoying when I was 14? Never mind, don’t answer that, I think I know the answer. My daughter is just like me isn’t she. Yep, Karma’s a bitch.

How did you handle this when you were a single mom, working full time with three angsty teenagers in the house? You must have been thrilled when I went to Finland for a year in high school. You’re welcome.

Just so you know I turned out okay. I know I was never the daughter you wanted, but I have thrived in my own unique way.

Your first grandson is graduating from college this year. Yes, that little kid who used to play in your tool drawer is now 22.

My youngest son is smart, funny and easy. You would really like him.

Then there’s my daughter. Mom, she would drive you crazy just like I did at 14. She is stubborn, defensive, creative and beautiful. She’s like that crazy brew we used to make at camp when everyone would bring a can of soup and all of them would get poured into one pot. Sometimes it tasted good, and other times it was the nastiest brew ever.

What do I do with her? I think I remember you just letting go and trusting me, and it worked Mom. You gave me wide boundaries as I recall and I never abused them. I made mistakes but I learned from them. And that’s the important part, right? Is that what I do with her? Set her free? Let her make mistakes?

This is hard. This single parenting stuff is hard, Mom. I don’t know how you survived, but you did.

I thank you for not clipping my wings and letting me become the person I am today, even though I’m not the person you wanted me to become. I’m better for it. Thank you.

Your angsty daughter,


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