Jodi Hills

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


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Coffee spoons.

I suppose it all comes down to relationships. The cherry on top.

There was a store in Minneapolis, four stores really – the Bibelot shops. They ordered big, and consistently. As we drove through Linden Hills yesterday, it all came back so clearly. I would make that drive almost weekly. Loaded up my car with the pictures and books and cards. Drove through the manicured streets. Off of France. Toward lake Harriet. Unloaded the car to smiles. Seeing my items on full display, my heart was full. I belonged. And it was nice, the money, it was how I made my living of course, but it was more than that — it was the relationships. I had so much respect for the owner – Roxy. A single mother who created the stores herself. From nothing, into something grand! Prosperous. Beautiful! All this success and she was kind. Welcoming. To me. To my mother. And each of her employees reflected her. I would meet the buyers in New York. Both tall and beautiful, they stood out from the crowd. I could see them coming from far away, and my heart beat strong. I knew I would have an order. I knew I would be seen. What a glorious thing for this small fish in this gigantic pond.

My hands waved out the car windows as I relayed these memories to Dominique. Memories on every street. Coffee here. Friends here. Sundays here. Wine here. Shopping here. My first museum. First photo shoot in this studio. Life opened here. I was T.S. Eliot pointing out all of my “coffee spoons” — “for I have know them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, morning, afternoon, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

Oh, to be blessed with all the cherries. I’m sitting in a friend’s condo as I type this. It is beautiful, certainly. I love the beds and pillows. The view of the Galleria. The French soap. The candy drawer. But mostly it’s because they share it with us. To know we have friends like this — how red, round and sweet!

Reach out your hands today – arms length – it is a day to be measured.


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Dabbling through time.


In my dream this morning, I was trapped in some sort of a space continuum. I say “some sort of” like I actually know what any kind of a space continuum is… In my dream I did though. There were all of these pockets of time to move through, and in some we would get stuck, trapped, others pushed us away. I suppose, not a lot different from real time.

We had Mallards in the lake across from our house. A lake not clean enough for swimming. With ducks that didn’t seem all that “special.” Everyone wanted to see the Loons. Wanted to hear the call of the Loon. It was haunting. Celebrated. Told a story of love’s travels like a train in the distance. We had the trains. We had the quacks of the Mallards. But I wanted a Loon. Wanted to be a Loon.

It was one of our science teachers that told us they were dabbling ducks. Dabblers. I liked the name. And suddenly these Mallards became more interesting. They had a story. And now, when I walk by the lake, see them tip over like a tea kettle, I smile. They are dabbling for their life, popping up and down, through pockets of time and lake.

Life on Van Dyke Road is a pocket of time for me. I travel in and out of it. There were many hard times. But I found that I too am a dabbler – able to tip over and pick out the goodness and pop myself up again. I tell my story, not always with the glorious call of the Loon – the voice I thought I needed, but still, I am proud to quack it aloud. I am a dabbler, from Minnesota. And I will continue to pop myself up, and tell my story, our story, again and again. We can’t all be loons, but we all have a song.


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Making heirlooms.

I looked it up, to see the exact definition —. Heirloom: a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations.


I don’t suppose we’ve ever been a family of objects, but I’don’t feel badly about that. Because we do have valuables. My grandparents, being farmers, grew something every year. Not for display. But for the growth. The life. And the stories that remain, even after every truck and tractor, every tool, had been auctioned off, the stories remain. And I hear them. I write them. And I pass them on – these heirlooms.

Since I can remember, I have only seen my brother in overalls. He is not a farmer. I’m sure if you asked him, he would say for the comfort, the pockets, easier to work in… and those reasons are probably all true. But it occurred to me that maybe he is creating his own heirlooms. Just as I write the stories, he puts on my grandfather’s wardrobe, and gives his own grandchildren an image of the past. An image that they certainly will carry with them forever. Their Grandpa Tom wore overalls.


We get to decide what is valuable in this life. What is important to us. For me, it has always come down to the human connection. Never to be displayed on shelves, but certainly displayed daily, in hands reaching out, arms pulling in, love grown, lives shared.


Some days, as I type, I wonder, is it really important, to write these words? And then you respond with memories of your own. Share your stories — your heirlooms — and grandparents are kept alive, traditions, schools, hometowns… and I smile and know it is valuable — making these daily heirlooms.


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To rise above.

I began mixing up the bread dough this morning. The first thing I have to do is to proof the yeast (to make sure that it actually does what it claims it can). If it’s good, with a little sugar and warm water, it will show you exactly what it is capable of. And when it works, rises up to meet you, you’re good to continue. 

Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” People will often say, after doing something wrong, “Oh that’s not who I am…” Or after being mistreated by someone, say, “It’s ok, that’s not who they are…” I’m sure I have been guilty of both. I’m sure we all have. But Maya was right. People will show you who they are, again and again. Some good. Some very bad. And the key is to believe them. To stop asking for proof when someone is kind to you. To stop aking for proof when they are not. 

Last week, when making bread, for the first time in a long while, the yeast didn’t work. I threw it away and started with some new yeast. It never would have occured to me to try and proof it again — it told me right from the start — “I’m not going work.”  Maybe it’s a bit harder to see in humans, but it’s still there, usually right in front of us. We just have to be willing to see it. Embrace the good. Walk away from the bad. 

I want to be better at this — be who I claim to be — who I want to be. And see others for the truth that they offer. What if we all did that? Offered the world proof that we truly can rise up!


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“You had me at lavender…”


It’s not like I thought honey came from a plastic bear, but not far.

Yesterday, on our small village tour, we bought some lavender honey. Before living in France, I had never really thought of the magic of bees. Bees. The work. The patience. The craft. Nothing short of magical. How they take, without harming, from their surroundings and create something so fabulous. What a lesson to be learned. I want to be better at this. 

Of course we needed bread for the honey. In the spirit of the bees, I made it. Taking the hours to mix, and wait, and rise, and wait, and roll, and wait, and bake. But the payoff, a house that smells better than any boulangerie…and the taste of bread fresh from the oven! 

This patience is a tricky thing to learn. We always want the answers right away. I am guilty of it for sure. Needing to know all the outcomes. How’s it going to be? I can get so far ahead of myself that I spiral out of the possibility of now. But now I have the lessons of honey. The sweet taste that tells me, relax. You don’t need to know how the magic works, just believe in it, taste it. It’s lavender. Lavender. And for a moment, this moment, I am saved.


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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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An imperfect life.

When I walked into his new condo, downtown Minneapolis, I was immediately impressed. It was curated as only Ken could do. Right down to the last detail. Just as he had curated each show in Anne’s lovely gallery by Lake Minnetonka.  It smelled fantastic, that mixture of clean and possible — you know, the kind of light fragrance that just makes you want to dress better.  “Sex and the City” was looping on the television screen. The lighting — just enough to highlight the art and keep your skin tones youthful. The bathroom – manicured. The bedroom – so warm, pillowed. And there it was. Framed. On the shelf. My poem, “Again.”

Again, I live this day

for the first time.

I feel the possibility of this brand new sky, again,

and I make promises to the world and myself

that I will make the most of this moment

again and again.

And I make the same mistakes for the first time –

and I cry old tears – and smile new hopes –

and I try and I laugh and I hurt,

and I pray for answers to the same old questions,

asked again and again –

when the answer is still and again – love.

I am blanketed by the night sky

and dream sweet and scared

and happy again – to wake to this day

for the first time –

to live in the possibility of this brand new sky,

and love, like I never thought I would, again.

Whenever I see this poem, I think of him. He is living his life in fabulous Ken fashion. As flamboyant and imperfect as only he can. And I saw him — not the curated version, not his sparkles, or feathered hats, or flashes of orange and prescriptionless glasses — I saw him. 

This morning, I page through my book, “An imperfect life,” and I read this poem and others. Each a snapshot of people I’ve seen. I’ve known. And what an honor it is. I read, “Hit by a train,” and I am with my Aunt Kay. I read, “Grace sat with me,” and I am with my grandmother. “The truth about you” — my mother. “Big girl world” — my Aunt Karolynn. What a joy it is to see people. To know people. What a privilege when they invite you in. Ask you to stay. 

I breathe in the morning air. Ready. Again. Eat croissants with the one I love. Open. Again. To see the beauty of this imperfect day. “To live in the possibility of this brand new sky, and love!  

Good morning world! I see you!


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No measuring cups.


It wasn’t often that I saw my Grandma Elsie without an apron covered in flour, that I saw the kitchen sink empty, her cupboards clear… You entered her house through the always unlocked door, directly through her kitchen. First impressions. It was always full. She was permanently baking and cooking, but rarely cleaning. This is not an insult. I have always admired her ability to let things roll. She didn’t seem overly concerned about the little things. She made it all look so easy. We asked her once about leaving the door unlocked, wasn’t she worried that someone could just walk in, in the middle of the night. “Well, maybe they’ll clean something…” was her response.


They say she never measured anything while cooking. I’m not certain it’s true, but it would be within her character. I started baking when I moved to France. I have no American measuring cups, and only a single French one. There is a lot of guessing. Not to mention the translating of recipes. The swapping out of ingredients (Chocolate bars are in the “exotic” aisle of the grocery store.) I’m not sure why I started. I don’t remember the first thing I baked. I’m going to guess cookies. I suppose for the first time in my life, I wasn’t afraid to do it. There was no one who would judge me, or make fun of me. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. For the first time in my life I was secure that my love would not be measured by kitchen triumphs or failures. I was simply loved. It’s amazing what that confidence can do for you.


I think of my Grandma now as I bake for Christmas. I think of how she must have felt loved. So loved that she could dance in her kitchen, covered in flour, with the sink full of dishes. And I am so happy that she had that. That confidence. That love.


Now with all those children, all those years, all that living, of course she must have had her share of heartache. Of concern. I suppose, even worry. But she showed none of it. Not with her hands. With those hands, covered in flour, covered in dust, she held. She gave. She touched.


Love is never measured.


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Delightful.

I picked up an old sketchbook this morning. One I was making a few years ago while traveling in the southern part of the US. We stopped in a store in Mississippi. It was filled with home goods. I was admiring some material between thumb and index finger. The clerk, with great pleasure, not knowing me, nor where I lived, said, “These tablecloths are so French, you can’t even find them in France!” Even as I type this, I’m not really sure what that means, but she said it with such pride, such exuberance, how could I not be delighted as well! Delighted enough to write it in my journal on a January 27th.


Sometimes I think we use the excuses of time, money, location, situation — excuses not to find the joy, the beauty, the magic of the moment. I have been guilty of this for sure. But years ago, I made it my intent to see things. Everything. Everywhere. Anytime. In people. Places. Things. And this intent became habit, and became a life.


I had terrible dreams last night. The kind that want to rattle you through breakfast. But I entered my French kitchen. Heated the croissants. Drank the coffee. Mixed up the bread dough. I love making bread. I love that soon the scent will waft through the halls. Soon we will eat the most delicious bread! Bread so good, so French, it takes an American girl in provence to make it! It doesn’t have to make sense — it’s just delightful!


Let go of the night — any darkness that surrounds you. Enjoy your day!!!


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Bourbon balls.

I understand it’s probably my own vanity that keeps me from bringing a lot of things back from our travels. My suitcases are always at the weight limit, despite my honest efforts. (In my defense, my mother taught me, when packing, you need to bring enough for weather changes, mood changes, or in case you want to open a store.) I usually return to France with a few postcards and a lot of ideas!


As we passed through Kentucky, I picked up the postcard of the blue horse. It was next to the Kentucky Bourbon balls. I knew I would be making them when we got home. (My less vain husband had room in his suitcase for the Kentucky bourbon.)


In the spirit of slow French baking, the Bourbon balls take two days. As with most of my kitchen experiences here, it was quite the adventure. We searched Carefourre (our version of Target) for the pecans. We combed over the whole store. Not in the nut aisle. Not in the snack aisle. Not in the “exotic” aisle. Finally, next to the avocados. Of course! Victory number one. The recipe on the postcard said one box of powdered sugar — a couple of things, in France the powdered sugar is really the regular sugar and the sucre glacé is the American version of powdered sugar — and it doesn’t come in a box. So I guessed. I mixed in the rest of the ingredients until it felt right, and made my balls. The next day I made the chocolate. We don’t identify semi-sweet or bitter sweet – we have “noir” – so I guessed. Stirred until it felt right. Use a double boiler the recipe card said. So I made one. Bowl and pan. It worked.


I put them in the refrigerator. Changed my clothes. And we went to see my mother-in-law. Two bourbon balls in tow. Before I presented them she asked what was in the container. I opened it and within seconds she devoured the two balls. Victory number two.
When we came home, we sat down with tea and tried them for ourselves. Dee and lish! Delicious! Time spent together. Travels remembered. Victory number three.


The adventures continue if you choose to take them. The victories continue if you choose to see them. Life is sticky and messy and oh, so very delicious!