Jodi Hills

So this is who I am – a writer that paints, a painter that writes…

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What remains.

I admit that I was a little envious of the Pertermeier children, Erin and Shawn. They got to spend a lot of time with my grandma. Just the two of them, when she worked for them at Petermeier’s Funeral Home. Alone time with my grandma was hard to come by – she had so many grandchildren! 

I was sick with a bad cold and needed to stay home from school. My mother worked, so I spent the day with grandma at the Funeral Home. It may surprise you, but it was glorious. Despite the location, and my ailments, I was alone with her. She was all mine. 

The attention she gave me was as thick as the red velvet curtains that hung in the parlor. We played cards at the kitchen table. I didn’t know the rules to any of them. She said I’d pick it up as we played. I didn’t. And I’d lose every game. But she’d laugh, and I felt like I was winning. I knew I was winning. I walked beside her, step by step as she vacuumed (I know I was sick, but honestly, she didn’t work at it that hard.) We crossed the street to Jerry’s Jack and Jill and got treats. Hand in hand.  What’s most surprising to me, as quickly as this day passed, it has stayed with me for decades.

Years later, visiting my home town, I saw the empty space where the funeral home stood. For a moment, my heart stopped. Just a building some would say, but not for me. It was a day where I was everything. 

I went home and painted the picture, “What remains may only be in the heart.” Ironically, I guess, I sold that painting almost immediately, and my representation was gone, but just as predicted, the feeling still remained, remains still.

We came home yesterday from traveling. I brought with me a cold. Awake throughout the night, blowing my nose, coughing, it was still there, that feeling. I would be ok. No longer jealous of the Petermeiers, but so grateful! What a gift they gave me. Time alone with my grandmother. An afternoon of red velvet love that I will carry with me forever. The remains of the day.

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Ready or not.

We played hide and seek at Washington Elementary. One person would close their eyes and off we would run to hide as they counted down the seconds. Ready or Not they would scream – Here I come!

My body and my iPad both think that it is 2am, but it’s 9am in the airplane leaving Paris for Marseille. We lost our night somewhere between New York and France.

Arriving at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, all the stores were just beginning to open. Gates rolling up. Lights coming on. The smell of croissants. You can fight it all you want, but the morning is here, whether you’re ready or not.

I suppose that’s with everything in life. Things change. People change. Seasons change. And we can try to hide, but we learned very quickly how that turned out in the school yard. Time always found us.

So we have our croissants and fly into the sun. We greet the new day that has arrived, not on our time, but right on time, knowing we don’t always get to be ready before we’re asked to begin — before we’re asked to grow.

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The garden.

The yard will need a lot of work when we get home. Living in an apartment for years, I never really knew what it took to keep up a yard, a garden. There is digging and moving and poking and nourishing and raking and watering, and mowing. It takes sweat and time and faith. And then it’s calm. The peace of the green grass under a blue sky. Serenaded by the birds. Calm. Home. 

I suppose that’s what we all want. I thought that’s what we all wanted. Peace. And yet, here we are again — war. As if we’ve learned nothing. And I’m at a loss for what to write. What to paint. Does it make a difference? Does it make a difference if we post the pictures of those suffering, scared, fleeing? And it’s so easy to say “look how wrong they are” and then fight with our neighbors about masks and politics. We have to do better. We know better – don’t we? Please, let us know better. 

Spring is on the way. A most glorious time of year. Beauty at every turn. But it expects things from us. It expects us to participate in all this glory. We have to participate. Be sowers of green. Of peace. We have to do the work. With our hands and our hearts. And we can’t give up. We know after each winter, there will be work to be done. And so it is with peace — constant work to be done. I don’t have the answers, but I have hope, and hands and a heart, and I’m going to keep trying. For calm. For home. For us. For all. Peace.

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A story.

We passed by the Javits Center yesterday. I used to do the shows there twice a year to show my work to gift stores and galleries. To build a store and carry it across the country, set it up, sell, smile, stand, and stand and stand on the concrete floor — not an easy task. It might surprise you to know that I didn’t think of any of that as we drove by in a yellow cab. I didn’t feel my aching feet, I felt my swelling heart. To interact face to face with people. To invite them into your world and see them react with hands clutching hearts, this will live within me forever.  

Our US journey will be coming to an end soon. We’ve seen so many wonderful places, but what is filling my heart is the interactions with people.  I did a special limited edition of my newest book, Pulling Nails, and distributed during this trip. It is a compilation of my art and blogs. My heart. I got to see so many of you wonderful people. And even if Covid and the weather kept the interactions brief, I valued every second!  Such a joy to run to cars for curbside pickup. To meet for coffee. To share a smile. A hug. A story.  To see my words clutched in your hands, held to your heart — this is everything. 

I write every day, not just so you hear my story, hear the stories about the people I love, but so you’ll share yours. And then we are all connected. No matter where we go, how tired are feet are, our hearts, these connections will lift us, carry us, on and through. We are all here to tell a story.

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Bon Appétit !

On the plane from New Orleans to New York, I watched the movie Julia. It was the story of Julia Child. Years ago, I’m not sure I would have been interested, but life has a way of giving you a new perspective.

Before moving to France, I didn’t really cook. I wasn’t brought up in the culture of dining. Food was necessary, but not really a life style. It is now. And just like Julia, I have fallen in love with it. The fresh ingredients, the sauces, the slow cooking, the sometimes even slower eating… it is an experience everyone should enjoy.

I see Julia now and what she did was revolutionary – bringing this art of cooking into her world – a world of Americans that were fascinated with TV dinners and convenience. She saw something different, and she became. When women didn’t work, she became. When no cooking shows were on PBS, she became. When people wanted to see small wasted, delicate women, making no decisions, no opinions, no movements, she went to school at Le Cordon Bleu, and she became.

We turned on the television this morning, and there was Julia again, still teaching us how to cook the French way. If you are inclined, I encourage you to try to make something new. And savor it. Or try a new restaurant. Try a new anything. It’s so easy to get boxed in. Wearing the same thing. Eating the same thing. Living the same day over and over again. The best things in my life have come from change. Some of the hardest, sure, but always the most rewarding. Change is only one letter away from chance. Take your chances. See things from a new perspective. Allow yourself to become. Possibly the greatest gift you can give yourself (and surely to others). It’s so easy to say, “Well, I never do that…”. Or “They never do that…”. Maybe you do now. Maybe they do now. And it just might be delicious!

Fill your heart. Feed your soul. Taste this life! Bon Appétit !

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I don’t think it’s too spot on that this city is called New — New York. Every time I come here it does feel new, and probably more importantly, so do I! “Ok,” I ask myself, “what are you going to see, learn, create from all of this?” Because it’s easy to lose the magic. Magic relies on both the magician and the viewer – you have to want to see it. And, oh, how I want to see it, be it! I always have – probably because I grew up with a magician.

When I was a little girl, we heard the tales of New York, Paris… heard that everyone dresses up there — everything is elevated. I’ve been to both cities, many, many times, and it may not be completely true any more, not for everyone, but I still believe in it — this dressing for success — I suppose my mother taught me that. And it was never about “putting on airs”, it was more about being good enough, and I don’t mean for “them,” (whoever they are) I mean proving to yourself that you are in fact good enough, good and enough, more than enough to walk along, beside, within, outside, along, every day in this world.

When I was a teenager, inside our humble apartment, each morning before 7am, my mother worked her own magic. She pulled out a neatly hung ensemble from her small bedroom closet, freshly ironed, and got dressed for the Superintendent’s Office of School district 206. She was tall and thinned by angry words that no woman should ever hear. But she was beautiful. Beautiful because she made the choice to release herself from the pain, and become new! She made the choice, every day, to present her best self. And I smiled and cheered, front row.

So today I will walk down this New York street with my head held high, out of respect for my mother, my self, and this magical new day!!!! As the song says, “It’s a new dawn, a new day, it’s a new life, and I’m feelin’ good!”

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Little dancer.

Two weeks ago when we arrived in New Orleans, just before the whirlwind of Mardi Gras had started, we were, for the most part, alone. Proof of this, we walked up to the Cafe du Monde and got an order of beignets in one minute. No line. Delicious in so many ways. We left New Orleans to travel the south, and returned yesterday to the crowds, donned in beads and noise and purples and greens and golds. The line for the Cafe du Monde stretched around the block. We smiled at each other, knowing, that just a moment before, it was ours. We tasted it without the validation of a long line.

While the crowds marched through the French quarter, we took a drive. I’m not sure what led us to the house where Degas lived for a brief time just before Impressionism took hold — I say I’m not sure, but I have a pretty good idea — our hearts usually lead us — maybe it was the French flag, the statue of the little dancer girl — there was no crowd to follow, no line to get in, just the feeling of creation in the air, and we pulled over immediately. This master of fine art, lived here. Here. Maybe it was just a brief moment, but we could feel it. And it was ours.

My grandparents lived in a farm house. No one will line up to see it, but I remember each door. Each entryway. I remember the smell of damp coats hanging. The creaks of the stairs. The sink full of dishes. The sign on the kitchen counter that read, “I should have danced all night.”

My mother will be moving out of her apartment soon. Some will say it was just four walls. But inside it was coffee and conversation. Wine and dreams. Fashion shows and laughter. Tears of tenderness. Home. Here – no crowds, no lines, but with hearts fully validated, oh, how we danced!

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Grandma’s dance.

My grandmother loved root beer floats. Oh how she loved them! She kept an old A & W root beer mug in the freezer, chilled and ready. Every visit to her house, after lunch, after Days of our Lives, she would ask, “Would you like a root beer float?” “No thanks, Grandma,” I would reply. I didn’t like root beer, and ice cream made me ill. Not my treat. “I could make them for us, no problem,” she continued. “No thanks,” I said, both smiling for different reasons. She smiled because she could almost taste her favorite treat. I smiled, because we had danced this dance so many times before. I knew I would eventually say yes, she would make two root beer floats, and she would eat them both.

What a pleasure it was to see her as a human. It’s rare, I suppose, that we get that. She was an aproned grandma, and so often we can get lost in that, forget that she was once a young girl, with her hair down, falling in love with a soon to be farmer. She was a woman of this world, not just grandma. She was a woman who had nine children, 27 grandchildren and so many more greats… but in a few rare moments, alone with her on a quiet afternoon, I got to see her, when she smiled, for the simplest of things, and it was beautiful.

Yesterday, in Baton Rouge, I asked Dominique to pull the car over. I had to take a picture. It was a giant root beer mug. I danced with my grandma again.

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I can’t explain exactly what makes one town charming, and another, not so much…. “Je ne sais quoi.” But when it is, charming, I can see it, almost immediately…I mean, I can feel it. And I feel it in Breaux Bridge, LA.

We crossed the bridge into the main part of the city. One or two streets really. But the life can be felt. People were dressed up. A young man, maybe six years old – pink collared shirt with bow tie. Girls in dresses. Something must be happening on this Saturday nearing mid day. We walked toward the small crowd. They were leaving the one church in the city center. Warming in February’s sun, they laughed and visited on the lawn. We just kept walking toward it, until we were in it. We asked the priest the occasion — confirmation he said. We asked, did he know of a good place to have lunch. Yes, he said without hesitation. One of my favorite things. I love it when people are sure of their city – their home. And that doesn’t always happen. We always ask, everywhere we go, because we want to eat what the locals eat. And there is such beauty when they are certain, when they say with confidence and pride — go here. Confirmation.

We went as directed. As we walked we could here Zydeco music coming from different buildings. They celebrate Saturday mornings here, with music and food and coffee and drink. And why not? We all should! We stepped into the restaurant. Seated at the table, she came over to greet us – the owner. She was proud of her place – with good reason. She was welcoming – asked us where we were from – so happy we were there. The food was sure to be good, we were already enchanted. And it was. Crawfish Etoufee. Shrimp. Delightful. We walked the shops. The woman at the antique store gave us her phone number. “You call if you need anything. I don’t know everyone, but I can help.” People being people.
With full bellies and hearts, we saw the haunting beauty of the swamps and the lakes and the trees. This is Breaux Bridge. It is not New Orleans. I have often written that France is not the Eiffel Tower — it is so much more. And so it is with Louisiana.

The world is a magical place. Filled with beautiful things to see. But I encourage you to look beyond the landmarks. Beyond the popular. Search for the humanity. When you find it, you will never be disappointed. The charm of humanity — beauty confirmed.

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The anticipation of youth.

I always trust a town with a coffee shop. We stopped yesterday in Jennings, a tiny, really tiny town, just outside of Lafayette. A sign hung at the entrance, “Making people tolerable since 2013.” We smiled and knew we were home.

Maybe it has come with age, or from living in France, but I have gained appreciation and the patience to wait for my order. Because it won’t be fast here – in the south – in a small cafe. No, you will wait, even if you’re the only ones there. But it was worth it. The lattes – perfection. The ingredients the same, but they added a little anticipation to make it just a lot more delicious.

It hung on the wall in the restroom – this coffee cup made from “string art.” String art was probably the first real art that I made as a child. I say real, because it wasn’t with a kit, or something you filled in from the store, it was all hand made. A piece of wood. Nails. Lots of nails, and string. Oh, how I loved to make it. I made it again and again. Gave it to my mom’s friends. And when I saw it hanging on Diane Larson’s wall, I think that was the beginning for me. I was an artist. I was home.

This coffee cup that hung in the restroom in Jennings, Louisiana, was not new. It was falling apart at the bottom. Some may not even call it art. But it was for me. More than that really. Because in it, I could feel it – all the anticipation of youth! What a feeling! I carry it with me as I greet the new day, again and again, and I give thanks for each beginning! How delicious!