Camp: Not for the weak-hearted


Weekly post here, phew I think I'm three for three, woohoo! Jon and I officially have 1 week of camp under our belts and are preparing to greet a new group of kiddos tomorrow. It's been an exhausting, exhilarating and exciting experience (like my string of E's?? yeah, I'm tired).

For those just tuning in, Jon and I have camp counselor gigs in France for 6 weeks for American Village - a program that offers English exposure classes and activities to French kids. We're called "Animateurs" and I have never felt so animated on the spot (whether naturally or forced) than in the last week. Actually, if the work day wasn't literally nonstop from 8am-10pm with the kids (last week was 53, 8-11 year olds) plus a staff meeting 'til 11pm, I'd say that it's actually quite fun to be in a purely playful environment where my biggest responsibility is to make kids - most of whom don't understand english - laugh, play and have a great time. It's a nice change from the office life.

The Stats

I got to put this picture of Jon on a fake dollar bill - it's awesome

If I remember correctly, in the first week of camp I wore 3 wigs, played a robot, a cow, a rocker, a French Olympian Ninja Chess Player (I won the gold - of course), did aerobics to "Pump Up the Jam", learned and taught 53 kids Gangdam Style, rocked the basketball court and felt pretty good about it until I realized I was playing a 9 year old who'd never touched a basketball, and watched in awe as Jon played a clumsy spiderman and 2 women. Generally - we've been nothing but ridiculous and I love it (except the tired part).



In the Cour et Buis farmer's co-op - so many yummy local frenchy things!

Rhone Valley

In all the silliness, I can't forget that we are in the heart of the Rhone Valley of France - surrounded by lush rolling farmland and mountains in the distance. I wrote about Vienne last week, and yesterday on our day off Jon and I walked to the nearest village of Cour et Buis. Round trip it was 7 miles, a nice opportunity to take in the scenic rural landscape and enjoy each others company, which we aren't able to do during the week. Cour et Buis is tiny - with 3 restaurants, a boulangerie, a tabac (mini mart) and our favorite stop - a farmers co-op selling products from the farmers that live and work right in the pastures we walked by. We picked up some locally made salami, honey and of course a large bottle of wine, all for under 10 euro. I will note that you can buy 5 liters of "Vin du Pays" or table wine for 8euro. Clearly the way to budget travel in Europe is to get your calories from drinking and sleep under a tree (?).


Since I'm working now I get to say that time off = vacation. So, as far as I know we have next week off. Any suggestions on where we should go in France (or Italy...or Spain... or Switzerland..)??

A Simpler Time...


I had a good week this week. It was busy, and I’m still waking up with headaches from working 8 hour days at the office and then going home and doing client work for my new freelance business (Stern Creative Solutions, Inc). But all in all, there are some realizations that I’m coming to in anticipation of cutting the cord of a highly-networked and visible profession and lifestyle in order to wander the world. Jon and I have been using up all our Chinook Book coupons that expire this month and decided on Wednesday to go have dinner at the Tao of Tea on Belmont – an old favorite. It has a special place in my heart, I used to go there at least twice a month for a stint and it’s synonymous with relaxing, reflecting, studying for school, or just being with great people in a calm and healthy environment. But, like so many things I used to take part in, I hadn’t been there in years.

So we went for dinner and got one of their comfy little booths. I was exhausted beyond repair, but just being there with my hubby, a warm pot of tea and delicious daal (and Dahl!), made me fulfilled in a way I hadn’t felt for a while. I kept expressing to Jon how nice it was, and how I missed going there. He said to me, “it was a simpler time.”

A simpler time, yes indeed, everything seemed simpler. But what happened that made now complicated, and how has it taken me so long to realize the dramatic shift?

The closer I get to leaving for our travels, the closer I come to some semblance of an answer. My job is pretty great, but when it comes down to it, there’s a direct correlation with when I started my job and when things stopped being simple. It’s easier to see because none of my other previous jobs, or even being in grad school caused me to simply not have the time or energy to do the things I love. During that ‘simpler time’ (which was not THAT long ago), I spent my non-work hours playing music, taking yoga classes, sometimes up to 4 days a week, reading, listening to and buying new music, camping and spending time with friends. My job was a good distance away, so I commuted by bike, which gave me another 1.5 hours per day of high intensity work outs. I was single, living simply and super healthy.

And looking back, there was a clear demarcation in 2008 when I started by current job. In 6 months, I was in grad school, in a committed relationship, no bike commute, out of the band in order to have time to study, and unable to make my yoga classes because of school and work events. In other words, it all stopped. And with the grad school came the student loans, and with the partner (who is now my husband, whom I love dearly) came moving in together, buying a car, and taking on more expenses. Without even knowing it, I was building the web of obligations that make so many of us feel like we’re stuck, without even realizing it or reflecting on what was happening.

But now that we’ve decided to deconstruct the web, the realization of all the sacrifices has been overwhelming. It’s no longer acceptable to me that when people ask, “what do you do for fun?” I freeze up and get all nervous because those fulfilling activities in which I used to partake are tucked away on some backburner that I can’t even find. I have to answer, “well, I serve on a lot of boards…? And… I like to go to arts things when I can…?” Ridiculous, Jessica Stern.

So as I drove to Tualatin today to meet my new CPA for my business, I was struck that my iPod, with the choice of over 5000 songs on shuffle, chose to play 3 songs in a row from R.E.M’s Automatic for the People. Ok, not only is that statistically unlikely, it must be a sign! I used to listen to that album ALL the time, when I listened to music, ALL the time. When things were simpler.

I think that if our entire trip fails and we get nowhere or have to come home, the very experiment of closing up shop and changing course has been a complete success. It’s allowed me to reflect, deeply, about the choices I’ve made over the last few years, and how those choices have guided my life without me really truly paying attention. I sort of let life take its course and now have realized, wait, I’m not doing the things that make me happy, that allow me to express who I am, this isn’t right!

While I never envisioned this travel adventure as a soul-searching mission, I can’t help but think that there will be a huge amount of self-discovery along the way. I do want to get back to the roots of who I am and who I want to be, and what better way to do that then to remove yourself from a static lifestyle and change it up? I’m so looking forward to the surprises, the unexpected, the new and the challenges. We really are seeking our fireflies, those things that give us light and inspiration, and hopefully as a result, I’ll understand how to live my life in a simple and tremendously fulfilling way.

Do you feel stuck? Do you feel like there was a simpler time? Did you have drastic changes in your life that led you away from your essence?

Leaping: Part 2


In my first post, I wrote about how Jon and I have decided to make our own rules; to change the playing field, and come up with a different lifestyle. We’ve been talking with our families and it’s starting to sink in how this philosophy is truly a departure from everything around us. Since we pledged that this would be for all of you who feel like you can’t leave your obligations, or your responsibilities, we want to be honest with how we’re going about this.

Jon and I haven’t been planning this trip for a long time. Indeed, we've known we wanted to go to West Africa for over 18 months, but the question of whether or not we could ‘make it work’ lingered for a long time, and so we never really committed to saving and doing it. Bad move on our part: If you don’t take the first step and make the decision, time just flies by and before you know it, it’s 10 months before you want to leave and you haven’t saved really much at all.

So we sat down and figured out the budget. It included the following for 1 week in Europe over New Year’s Eve, 4 weeks in Mali, 3 weeks in Senegal, 2 weeks in Morocco and 1 week in Spain, with all the travel in between countries:

  • $2,300 savings from gifts received from our wedding, joint savings and some other random cash we pulled together
  • an expected $1,100 from the ‘car fund’: money Jon gets from mileage and gas reimbursement from his work that involves driving nearly 300 miles per week, minus expected car repairs and maintenance
  • $3,000 Jon’s personal savings money, after keeping some for reserve for when we get back
  • $3,000 Jess’ personal savings, with no reserve for the return (yikes! I had credit card debt that zeroed out my savings awhile back…)
  • $2616 Jess’ last month of earnings from work plus about $500 in unused vacation hours
  • $2700 Jon’s last month of earnings from work

This is a total of $15,200 to start with, not including the sale of any of our stuff, our furniture or our car (which we expect to net about $3000 from).  Also, because we bought a one-way ticket, we were going to need to save some cash to get us back home if one of us got really sick, or we just ran out of money. So we calculated a months worth of really cheap living, plus putting down first/last month’s rent on a new place, which came to reserving $4,000 for airfare and the aforementioned expenses. I will make a note here that at this point we have no plans to purchase medical insurance while traveling, which does make us both nervous, but we can’t afford it… Stay tuned on that one. We're going to try and find some money to do this - maybe from the sale of our car.

Of course, that is for a short 2-3 month trip and we've decided to not come back. So now the key is not spending all that money and finding work for short stints in order to continue our travel. It's all about being resourceful, and we're looking forward to it.

So there you have it. What about expenses you say? Well sure, we have them. Here's what we're looking at:

  • Student loans - we have 'em, but without income, they go down to about $10/mo, so that's $20/mo for both of us
  • Credit cards - I have 'em, and wasn't able to pay them off before leaving, but we transferred everything to a no-interest card - it's about $100/mo, which is more than the minimum payment, but not by much.
  • Phone - not sure what this is going to cost overseas. We'll take my smart phone and buy SIM cards locally, minutes and data will depend on usage. We'll mostly stick with skype.

Hopefully other than feeding, housing and clothing ourselves, there won’t be a lot of required costs. For someone like me who’s always had a lot of stuff, I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to getting rid of it, going minimalistic and hitting the road.

Some people ask us if we're selling everything, or if we're storing stuff. Definitely storing stuff. Part of the reason we shied away from doing this in the first place was honestly because we were afraid to come back to nothing. But we've realized it doesn't have to be that way. We also just got a beautiful set of Heath dish and serverware, plus other gifts from our wedding. We also have a few pieces of furniture that we'll keep - things that will fit in a small apartment and we'll need when we get back. We also have some bigger things that we don't want to sell, but that others can enjoy on loan - like our tv, grill and the super nice washing machine that my folks bought us as a housewarming gift.

Looking at everything we have has really made us realize our assets. By doing an inventory of our things, and what’s really of value to us and what we don’t mind selling or giving away has truly opened out eyes to the small riches we’re living with, and how we really do have the freedom to let it go and use the resources from our stuff to start living our lives the way we want to. Hells yeah, that’s super exciting and so so freeing!

What things would you sell/keep in order to cut the cord and be mobile?