Archive for category Personal Stories

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.

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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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How I Became a Geek

It may have started in utero. I can’t be sure. But here’s what I remember…

1962: Born. Okay, I don’t really remember that part, but the important part is that my dad had a degree in math and we moved six times before my 6th birthday. And that last move landed us smack in the middle of what would become Silicon Valley.

1962-1968: I remember the teachers at school whispering and giggling about this radical musical ‘Hair,’ and I remember a lot of low-waisted bell bottoms, blue eye shadow and headbands. That is all.

1969: My parents get divorced. You may not see this as an important milestone on my road to geekdom, but in fact it is, because after my parents get divorced my mom quits her job as a teacher and goes to work as a secretary for Fairchild Semiconductor. Boom.

1972: Pong. My first video game.

1973: Sometime around 1973 my dad moves to San Diego, but the rest of the family stays in Silicon  Valley.

1974: Mr. Demerelli gives me a C in math and I realize I did not inherit my dad’s math gene. Sigh. How will I ever become a geek if I can’t wax on about calculus and write my friend’s phone numbers down in binary notation?

1975: My dad quits working for large government contract companies and starts a company called Antares, and begins designing and building I/O circuit boards that allow commercial computers to interface with Naval Tactical Data Systems (NTDS) devices or systems.

1976: My mom needs to keep me busy for the summer so she brings me to work with her every day and pays me some exorbitant salary (probably 50 cents an hour) to type invoices and packaging labels for semiconductor parts.

1976: Bill Joy invents the “vi” editor for Unix (This will become important later. Trust me)

1977-1979: I discover that working summer jobs in startups is way more interesting than working in retail or fast food. I spend my summers editing code I don’t really understand, do secretarial work, and soak up the energy of the startup entrepreneurs.

1979: I ask my dad what I should major in in college and he says, “Major in art. It doesn’t matter. You’re just going to get married anyway.” Yeah, didn’t take that advice, but thanks anyway.

1980-1982: I share a 2-bedroom apartment near San Diego State with three strangers, one of whom is a Computer Science Major. I watch Shelly carry stacks of cards back and forth to the computer lab, and I finally get curious enough to come with her one day to see what she’s actually doing with all of those cards.

1982: Stanford classmates Vinod Khosla, Scott McNealy, Andy Bechtolsheim, and UC Berkeley computer science graduate student Bill Joy co-found Sun Microsystems (SUN is the acronym for the Stanford University Network). I have no idea this is happening, but it will become very important later.

1983: I register for Computer Science 101, a class that just barely scratches the surface of what an operating system is, and how you can program it to display “Hello World.”

1984: I graduate with a Journalism degree, with an emphasis in Advertising, and minors in Spanish and Television & Film. I know, nothing to do with computer science, but just hang in there. I assure you this all comes together in the end.

1984-1985: Did I mention that I graduated during a recession? I couldn’t get a job in an advertising agency, so I became a cocktail waitress. Boom. I know what you’re thinking. Major life detour. What does this have to do with becoming a geek. Well, if I had actually gotten one of those advertising jobs my life would have taken a different path.

1985: I decide I’ve had enough of the cocktail waitress life, pack my bags, buy a one-way ticket around the world and leave.


My Employee Badge from Sun

1985: I make it all the way around the world, run out of money in Hong Kong, come back to Silicon Valley and head to the Volt temp agency. They place me at a little startup called Sun Microsystems as an administrative assistant. Geek heaven. I am amazed by Sun’s internal email system, Suntools, so I decide to write a User’s Guide for the employees. I am bored in my administrative assistant job so I read Henry McGilton’s book “Introducing the UNIX System” cover to cover like a recipe book, trying out every command as I go. I ask Henry to lunch so I can discuss further. I’m well on my way to becoming a geek.

1985: ARPANET becomes the Internet and I discover online forums that you can only find if you know the IP address.

1986: I become a certified Sun systems administrator, and discover how to hack through Sun’s screenlock and report this as a major security bug. I take a Pascal programming class and write my first computer program.

1989: I am working for another startup called Frame Technology when I discover a proposal written by someone at CERN about something called the World Wide Web. I decide this is going to be something amazing and I write a white paper about it that no one outside my company ever sees.

1989: Frame Technology founder Steve Kirsch comes into my cubicle and tells me he has this brilliant idea to create a way to let us find things on this Worldwide Web thing without having to know the IP address of what we’re looking for. That idea becomes Infoseek, one of the first Internet search engines. At this point I consider myself a full-fledged card-carrying member of the geek club.

The years from 1989 up until now have been a blur of information and cutting edge technology. I have spent the past 20+ years working with a multitude of different companies (mostly startups) in a consulting capacity or as a full-time employee.

2012-????: This chapter is being written every minute of every day as I continue to chase the top of the wave—which for right now is social media marketing—and look for the next one to ride.

I am the daughter of an entrepreneur, and I thank my dad every day for telling me to major in art, because I’ve never really been good at doing what I’m told.

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My Dad is on Facebook

People used to roll their eyes when I told them I was blogging at the ripe old age of 41.

“MySpace is for teenagers!” they’d say. And then they’d ask if I was having a midlife crisis.

Social Media and Social Networking didn’t have a name back then. The word “blog” wasn’t even in the dictionary yet. I wasn’t sure what wave I was riding at the time, but I instinctively knew it was the wave of the future.

My dad showed up in the “People You May Know” sidebar on my Facebook page this morning. He’s 75. Is he having a midlife crisis? I don’t think so.

Ride the wave!

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26.2 Miles

runningI ran a marathon once and hated it. Six years later I ran another one and loved it. Why? Training and experience.

You don’t have to be insane to run 26.2 miles under your own free will. You don’t even have to be a super athlete. What you have to be is committed (to your goal of finishing a marathon, not committed to a mental institution).

If you think you could never run a marathon, I’m here to tell you that you can. The hardest thing about running a marathon is training for a marathon.

Find a Training Buddy
I have run with the same group of women for over 15 years. My main training partner had probably run 8 marathons before I ran my first. If anyone could get me through the training she could. When it is 36 degrees outside and raining sideways you are going to want someone who will verbally beat the crap out of you if you don’t show up for a run. There’s guilt in numbers.

There are also a number of professional training organizations like Portland Fit who do group runs for marathon training.

Pick a Good Marathon
One of the reasons I had such a horrible first marathon was because it had the trifecta of bad ingredients for a marathon: a double loop, hot sun, and altitude. My first marathon was Pacific Crest in Sunriver, Oregon. The only thing that would have made it more miserable:  hills.

So when I picked my second marathon I decided to choose based on this list of “features:”

  • Scenery. It had to be a scenic route.
  • Weather. Mild climate. No chance of rain or heatwave.
  • Route. No double loops. No out-and-backs.
  • Location. Somewhere I wouldn’t mind spending a weekend.
  • My second marathon was Carlsbad (Southern California). Nothing like running along the beach in January, wearing nothing but shorts and a short sleeved shirt when it’s pissing down rain and 40 degrees at home in Portland.

    Train Like You Mean It
    This is the hard part. You have to give up half of every weekend from now until the foreseeable future. I run almost every weekend anyway, but I don’t get up at 5:30am and run 20 miles in the rain if I’m not training for a marathon. Just realize that you will not to be able to go away for a weekend during your training unless you can run 20 miles by yourself without the motivation of your training partner. I know I can’t, so I stay in town for the whole training period.

    Fuel the Fire

    There are two things I learned while training for the Carlsbad marathon:

    1. You need to fuel the pilot light as well as the body.
    2. Magnesium is a miracle mineral.

    I crashed during the Pacific Crest marathon because I wasn’t eating enough during the race. My “pilot light” went out somewhere around mile 22 (the proverbial wall). What I learned in training for Carlsbad is that my body needs a lot of fuel to keep that pilot light lit so I have the energy to burn my stored calories. My new rule is that if I am running for more than 60 minutes I will eat during the run. Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it eating. It’s more like drinking slimy goo from a plastic packet. Runners know I’m referring to the Power Bar Gels,  Gu,and various other forms of runner “food.” I estimate that I consumed 15 of those packets during the Carlsbad marathon.

    Any sustained athletic activity will deplete the body of Magnesium. And when you’ve just run 26.2 miles and your legs are screaming you will want a Magnesium capsule at the finish line, even better if there’s a hot guy (or gal) handing it to you with a smile. Your body will naturally replenish the lost Magnesium over a period of 24 hours, but who can stand the painful leg cramps for that long! Not me.

    Why do you do so many long runs?

    I can’t tell you how many people look at me sideways when I tell them I’m running 18 miles on a Saturday and the marathon is still six weeks away. You can’t run one 18-mile run before a marathon and expect your body to be happy about running 26.2 miles. You have to train your body for sustaining itself for long periods of time. So, if you want to run a marathon time of four hours, you’d better do plenty of training runs that last four hours. It gets your body used to the idea of running for that length of time. When I am done with my training I will have run three 18-mile runs and three 20-mile runs, with many other runs sprinkled in between.

    The Last Marathon

    When I finished my first marathon I said I’d never do it again because it was such a horrible experience. When I finished my second marathon I said I’d never do it again because it was such a perfect experience. Then I signed up for my third marathon. WTF? I signed up because:

    1. I needed a reason to get my ass out of bed all winter in this dark, dreary weather we have in Oregon.
    2. I wanted my “marathon body” back.
    3. I got some wild hair about running the Boston Marathon for my 50th birthday and I needed to qualify.

    So, training is almost over and the marathon is just a few short weeks away. The training did get me out of bed every weekend even in the pouring rain. I am fit and living off a runner’s high most days. But now I’m thinking once again that this will be my last marathon. I can hear you all screaming, but what about Boston!? After training all winter for this marathon, giving up every single weekend, and missing most of my son’s basketball games, I don’t think I want to do it again. I’d like to go back to my normal life of running 10-12 miles on a Saturday morning, which I can do before my kids even get out of bed, and I can do anywhere in the world.

    I may still qualify for Boston, but I probably won’t run it. I think I’d rather be in a hot air balloon somewhere over the Napa Valley sipping champagne on my 50th birthday next year. :^)

    Napa Balloon Champagne

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    Letters to Myself, Age…

    My dear friend over at The London Leprechaun once wrote a blog of letters to himself at various ages, so I thought I would do the same. If I could give myself advice…

    PlutoDear Kelly (Age 3),

    Yes, that toy Tonka Jeep is sturdy, but it’s not meant to be ridden down the driveway like a luge sled. Especially not face first. So now you’ve got this big scab on your face for your fourth birthday thanks to the small pebble halfway down the driveway that stopped that Tonka truck cold and launched you into the concrete like a missile. But don’t worry, there won’t be scar.

    Dear Kelly (Age 4),

    The Monkees are never going to drive up to your house just because you love their show so much, so stop staring out the window and watching for them. The show is taped Kelly. When you see them drive away at the end of the show they are not driving to your house. They are probably in some bar having a Scotch.

    Dear Kelly (Age 5),

    Uhm, you forgot to take your pajama shorts off before you left for Kindergarten this morning. They’re still there under your dress.
    5thGradeDear Kelly (Age 12),

    You’re lying there with your arm in a cast. It’s summer. I know it sucks. You’re lucky you didn’t land on your head when you fell into that empty swimming pool. And just so you know, your wrist is going to heal just fine and you’re going to be a fabulous volleyball player for the next 20 years. What? You’ve never tried volleyball? You will.

    Dear Kelly (Age 13),

    You and your best friend Cathy, whom you’ve known since you were 4 years old, have gone your separate ways. I know you are heartbroken, but let me tell you something. You two will reconcile and stay the best of friends until the day you die. Just give it some time.

    Dear Kelly (Age 16),

    I know that your original plan was to escape to a foreign country for a year just because you were sick of living at home. I know you’re homesick in Finland, but resist the urge to pack up and go home. Stick it out. This experience will shape the rest of your life. And that family you’re living with has a heart of gold, and you will keep in touch with them for the rest of your life.

    Dear Kelly (Age 17),

    When the guards at the Russian border tell you to stay in your seat on the bus and not take any pictures at the border crossing they mean it! Did you really think they wouldn’t see the camera flash as you took the picture while the bus was pulling away? Tsk tsk. You’re lucky that all they took was your film.

    HomeComingDear Kelly (Age 18),

    The fact that you were Homecoming Queen will have no value whatsoever later in life. No, I’m not kidding.  Sorry, but it’s not something you can put on your resume.

    Dear Kelly (Age 21),

    I know you went to San Diego State because you wanted to be a news reader and a reporter, but it’s going to take a while. You’ll graduate in a year and become a cocktail waitress because there are no jobs in 1980. Eventually you’ll decide enough is enough and you’ll get your first corporate job at Sun Microsystems. You will have this incredibly awesome boss who will push you into Engineering. I know it sounds really far fetched, but it’s true. You’ll love it. Don’t worry. Oh, and that news reader thing? You’ll eventually have your own political talk show. You’ll write it, co-produce it and host it. Yes, really.

    Dear Kelly (Age 22),

    For future reference, you’re not supposed to touch royalty. I’m sure Prince Andrew will get over it but the Mayor of San Diego will never forgive you.

    Dear Kelly (Age 23),

    Did you really think that buying a one-way ticket around the world and traveling by yourself was going to be without incident? You are too trusting. Leave Madrid as soon as you can and stay in India for a while. You’ll like the Shah family. Did you know that Mrs. Shah thinks you are her daughter from a past life? They will love you like a daughter. Go.

    Dear Kelly (Age 29),

    I know you’re wondering if you’ll ever get any sleep again. That little baby who’s waking you up at all hours will grow up to be a young man you can be proud of. He will have written two novels by the time he’s 20 years old. Oh, and he will stop spitting up eventually.

    Dear Kelly (Age 41),

    I know, I know, this is not where you thought you’d be at this age. Being a single mom with three kids is rough. No doubt about it. But Kelly, this time in your life is going to teach you so many good life lessons so make sure you pay attention.

    SurvivorTrackDear Kelly (Age 42),

    You are a Survivor. Remember that.

    Dear Kelly (Age 47)

    This too shall pass.

    Dear Kelly (Age 48),

    The teenage years don’t last forever. You’re not the first to have an angsty teenage daughter.

    Dear Kelly (Age 50),

    I warned you! Be careful what you wish for. You got it. Now what?

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    I Left My Heart In London

    It’s snowing in London…


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    Kelly's B-HAG Bucket List

    I’m a list person. I can’t live without lists and goals. They keep me organized and motivated. There are the boring To-Do type lists and then there are the B-HAG (Big Hairy Ass Goals) and Bucket lists.

    I recently reviewed my B-HAG Bucket List and decided to make a few changes and additions, because I have actually checked off more than a few things in the past two years.

    Kelly’s B-HAG Bucket List

    • Run the Napa Marathon on March 6, 2011, and qualify for the Boston Marathon. I have to have a time of 4:05 in order to qualify. My time for Carlsbad was 4:15:10 so I think this is doable.


    • And speaking of Napa, I still want to take a balloon ride over the vineyards whilst sipping champagne.
    • Run the Boston Marathon in 2012 for my 50th birthday.


    • Finish the first draft of my “Confessions of a Dating Ninja” book by the end of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) November, 2010.
    • Build a house with the Habitat for Humanity team.
    • Attend Burning Man.

    Burning Man

    • Stay at a game reserve in Africa.
    • Visit the penguins in Antarctica (the only continent I haven’t been to).
    • Make a difference every day.

    The list has changed quite a bit over the years. It’s gotten quite a bit shorter as well, because I’ve lived a lot of life. It’s time to dream some new dreams and fill it up again. What’s on your list?

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    Dear Mark Zuckerberg, You Suck

    Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

    I thought we had a deal. When I joined Facebook a few years ago you promised me privacy.  When I first arrived on the scene I could keep my entire profile private, create my own little Facebook world if you will. I liked the fact that every status I ever posted didn’t show up on Google when I searched on my name. I appreciated the fact that I had control over my audience. Now you’ve changed the rules without consulting me and I’m not happy about it.

    When I originally clicked Accept on your privacy policy when I joined Facebook, it said nothing about sharing my personal information on Facebook pages and partner websites outside of Facebook. You call this new feature “Instant Personalization.” I call it a complete violation of my privacy.

    You falsely give the impression that I actually have the ability to opt out of this program, yet you continue to force me into the program even though I’ve opted out. As you can see by my Privacy settings I have unchecked the box that allows you to take my private wall postings and publicly display them on your partner websites:

    Facebook Privacy Opt Out

    When I try to opt out of your Instant Personalization program you threaten to share my information via my friends anyway!

    Facebook Privacy

    I have opted out of this Instant Personalization program yet you continue to threaten me if I don’t opt in. When you pop up a dialog that asks me if I’d like to link to 37 other pages on Facebook, and I refuse, you threaten to wipe out the personal information from my profile.

    Facebook Warning

    So, unless I bow to your wishes you will basically empty my profile of all of the information that I originally chose to post. If I link to the 37 pages you suggest, you will replace all of the personal information I have posted in my profile with garbage that you think I should have on my profile, based on your data mining of my status updates and current profile information.

    This is not what I signed up for Mr. Zuckerberg. I am a public persona, and even I am appalled by your lack of respect for my privacy. If you Google my name you will find 20 pages worth of links to information on me. This is the information I want you to find. There’s a difference.

    I hope your pilot program crashes and burns.


    Kelly Jo Horton

    Social Networker

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    10 Funky Things about Me

    Originally posted on April 23, 2008 on MySpace.

    10 Funky Things about Me

    This is one of those tag games that I actually like, because it gives me an opportunity to let you all get to know me a little better. I was tagged by Pink Sapphire for this one.

    I can’t really think of 10 “Funky” things, so I’ll go for random odd things, and try not to repeat myself from the last two times I did this.

    1. I refused to cut my finger nails in order to play on the soccer team in high school, so the referees required me to wear first-aid tape over my long finger nails!
    2. I twirl one foot in circles whenever I’m sitting still. Been doing it all of my life. they tell me it’s an ADD thing.
    3. I can tie a maraschino cherry stem into a knot with just my tongue (a highly envied bar skill in college).
    4. When I was seven years old a doctor told my mother I had Yellow Fever, and that I was going to die. Turns out it was just a bacterial infection from some dried seaweed I ate at a Japanese friend’s house.
    5. I got Botox in the sweat glands under my arms so I could wear a borrowed $3000 dress to the HBO After Emmy’s Party a few years back and not ruin the dress! I still do it so I don’t sweat onscreen.
    6. I once stopped eating all sugar for six months. My streak was broken when my friend Kim showed up with a bag of frosted animal cookies. It was downhill from there.
    7. When I was 24 I bought a 1-way ticket around the world and traveled for six months by myself. I told everyone I was a freelance journalist.
    8. I have eaten from roadside stands, and drank from wells all over India and never gotten sick, but I get sick every time I go to Mexico, no matter how careful I am.
    9. I was on a technical support call with a customer during the 1989 Loma Prieta quake in the Bay Area. I decided to move to Oregon after that quake (of course now I know we have a huge fault that runs right under the downtown area).
    10. The only reason I ran for the office of Pledge Trainer at my sorority in college was so I could get a private room in the house and not go to the weekly meetings.

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