New Zester Jessica Helton of A Little Long Distance

What’s Up Wednesday:

Perhaps you have noticed over the last couple of weeks that the imagery on Zest it Up has taken a turn for the better.  Obviously, Sam and I wear many hats as the founders/owners of Zest, but we would NEVER claim to be expert photographers by any stretch of the imagination.  We thank you for hanging in there over the last 3 years, tuning into blog posts of hundreds of projects with lame imagery that works well enough to get the idea across (but definitely not good enough to make you drool).

Yep, it is official, we have added a special someone to our team….and we are SO excited!  Thanks to Jessica Helton of A Little Long Distance, we are having some fun photographic fun over here at Zest!Jessica_Helton_of _A_Little_Long_Distance_0710

What better way to introduce you to this lovely human being than through her own words?

Hometown: suburbs of Nashville, TN

Education: Bachelor of Arts in Writing with a Psychology Minor from Maryville College

Favorites: classic literature, bacon, folk music, social justice, the holiday season, red lipstick, design, figure skating, girls’ education & literacy, Tennessee, giving presents, Europe, eating out, adoption, costume parties

Always: reading, cheesin’, people watching, speaking in accents, taking bubble baths, finding spiritual symbolism, planning a project or trip, watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. while editing, referencing Pinterest, oversleeping

Fun Facts: Jess is a World Race alum and has lived short-term on every continent (minus Antarctica.) She is a color processor for multiple international photographers. She dreams of becoming a published writer & poet.

Storytelling Background: creative writing was my first love; bought my first dslr camera in 2009 before studying abroad in Germany

Life Motto: “timshel” — John Steinbeck

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Feel free to here about her escapades of traveling through life with her videographer hubby on her A Little Long Distanace blog. Sam and I knew we wanted to work with her after reading the below entry.  She is most definitely a heart-sharer!


I’ll let you in on a little secret. When we first rolled into our new city of Morro Bay, I didn’t like it.

This is a scary realization when you’ve just put thousands of miles between you and your entire lifetime’s accumulation of safety nets– all your stuff, all your people, all your memories and sense of belonging– just so you could be here. It’s a scary feeling when you’ve just made a series of whimsical but not-so-practical life choices, like driving cross-country in a whimsical but not-so-practical vehicle and being full-time freelance artists (unemployed) and starting a new life in a place you don’t have friends for a few hundred miles. It’s a scary feeling when you drop everything to chase your golden snitch (muggles… you’re dead to me), but when you finally catch up to it, breathless and exhilarated and a little bit bruised, you grasp it in your palm, hold it to your face, and feel only… disappointment. 

Oooh, Disappointment. She’s no stranger to idealists like me. That old broad always shows up fashionably late to my best parties, doing her best to seduce my Imagination. You see, my beloved Imagination is a true artist. He creates some stunning images of what could be, and they’re really quite dreamy. But once he has too many drinks, he turns into a different guy altogether. (We all know that guy.) He becomes Expectation. And Expectation always leaves the party with Disappointment. In fact I caught the two of them sleeping together before my big California fiesta.

Expectation: We’ll be able to see and hear the beach from our camper. There will be flat roads, perfect for riding our bikes to the market everyday. I will never sweat again. I will never feel cold again… ok, ok, I might occasionally don a light jacket in the evenings. Every hour of the day will be golden hour. We will leave the windows open at night to breathe in the salty, summery air. I will surf the warm waters and be unified with nature as I gaze into the golden horizon of the ocean. I will be miraculously transformed into a morning person…and a musician. This will come in handy with our dreadlocked gypsy neighbors who love to sing and have philosophical conversations over a fire. 

Reality: Our first morning in Morro Bay we woke up to a dense fog that didn’t lift for the next…two days. (So there IS a reason our SoCal friends used words like “sleepy” and “mystical” to describe this place.) Nighttime in the camper gives us PTSD flashbacks to that time we lived #brokendownvanlife in New England… in November. I feel myself start to panic when I realize I haven’t taken off my (only) sweatshirt in several days. All I want to do in this weather is curl up and read. And the most activity I’ve seen from our retired neighbors is their twice-a-day ritual raking of the gravel.

 It’s not that Morro Bay is an unpleasant place– I love me some gloomy reading days and grandparents. It just wasn’t the Beach Boys album cover that I’d expected all of California to be. (It also didn’t help matters that we’d just left behind Santa Barbara, a city that stole my heart within a weekend glimpse.) I lasted about 48-hours in Morro Bay before projectile word-vomiting this panic all over Josh one afternoon in our park hot tub (hot tub in the afternoon, case in point.) My angel husband held my hand as I battled it out with Disappointment…and Shame (“I hate feeling high maintenance, wahhhhh“). Let me take advantage of this moment to tell you that Josh is THE most patient, gentle human amidst my passionate chaos. Our parking spot in Morro Bay was reserved for the next three months, but we sat and discussed possibilities, like breaking our contract and heading back South. This season, after all, was about having the freedom and flexibility to roam the coast and taste from a buffet of cities. Was it really so wrong to spit one out and move right along? Isn’t that kind of freedom the whole beauty of camper life?

Well…yes. Yes, we decided, it would be perfectly acceptable (and kind of cool) to show up to the place we had planned… and jump ship to swim in the opposite direction. But something held us back. If we’re honest with ourselves, Josh and I are really good at leaving.  I’m the master of making snap-decisions, and I often see the gift of choice to be as expendable as the fast-food, throw-it-away culture I live in. The world inside my mind is so black & white, so love-it or hate-it, that I rarely give myself opportunity to cultivate patience or, heaven forbid, change my mind.  So we decided, this time our great adventure, our big risk, would be to stay. To stay with joy and curiosity, releasing the bitterness that follows unmet expectations and disappointment.

And on the third day, the sun finally burned through the fog covering Morro. (And God said it was good.) We began exploring our city, and were elated to discover that there’s about a million things to see and do within an hour of us. We finally made our way a few minutes up the road to San Luis Obispo, a creative hub and college town that had first put the Central Coast on our radar before we left Nashville.  Locals call it SLO and brag its reputation as the happiest city in America, and it’s hard to disagree. Ironically it’s a city we could see ourselves staying in for the long-haul… but that’s another post for another day.  After our first two days in Morro, I wanted to leave. Within three days of staying, I never wanted to leave.  Granted, in the sleepy town we’re parked in, pretty much all of our time spent here is eating, sleeping, and surfing by the giant rock that sits on our beach. Our social lives have migrated into SLO, a place that just “gets” us (and gives me my needed dosage of sunshine). I’m saving the stories of favor and friendship we found within a week of that hot tub escape-route conversation for another post, because they’re just too sacred and special to us to merely tack on as a footnote here. The lesson here is that expectations blind us to the joys of our reality. To dream of what’s to come is a gift that only those with hope can indulge in… but becoming drunk on those dreams is fatal to our sense of contentment. Gratitude will be replaced by resentment. It’s a tight-rope act, this life of walking in freedom. Sometimes we must leave, sometimes we must stay.