Jodi Hills

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


1 Comment

Test cookie.

All ovens are different. All recipes. Even recipes that you have made again and again can turn out differently depending on the day. Maybe it’s the weather. The brand of flour you used. The way you stirred the dough. It could be any number of factors. So I always make a test cookie. Just one tiny cookie. See if the dough is right. Maybe I need to add a little flour. Or turn down the temperature of the oven. Sometimes it’s perfect on the first try, but not always. And I don’t get angry at the dough – how silly would that be? I just make the necessary changes. And it works. It works because I give myself a chance to make a mistake. A chance to correct it. 

I want to be that generous with everything I do. Give myself a chance to make mistakes. Not beat myself up over it. Make corrections. Make adjustments. Maybe each day isn’t a delicious batch, and that’s ok. Maybe today is just my test cookie. Either way, it’s going to be ok, and eventually, if not immediately — delicious!


Leave a comment

The kitchen cow.

You could see a cow from almost every window in my grandparent’s home. Maybe it was just too many reminders for my grandma on this particular day. I never thought of her having a middle name. I barely thought of her first name. She told me while sitting at the kitchen table – it was Gladys. Her middle name. She said she liked it. I could see a bit of a twinkle in the eye that rested above her curled lip. She was thinking about something…  And I suppose it was the first time I saw her not just as a grandma, but a woman. A woman of this world. And she looked beautiful. “But Elsie is nice,” I said. “Ah, it’s a bit too much like a cow…You can call me Gladys if you like,” she said. And her apron started to disappear. I smiled, knowing I had witnessed something so very special. She slapped her hands on her thighs. The apron reappeared and she went back to the sink. I grabbed her from behind, and I hugged, again, and for the first time.  

At our kitchen table here in France, I sit at the chair that faces my little cow. I painted it years ago. It rests just over Dominique’s shoulder. All of my worlds, open, with each morning croissant. The radio was playing Cabaret this morning. Liza sang “I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie.” My heart grins. For, I too, for just a brief moment had, not just a grandma, but a girlfriend…who let me in, well beyond the kitchen, inside her private twinkle.


Leave a comment

Sweet seasons.

Maybe he was more aware of how little time there actually was…maybe all farmers are, as they watch and work the seasons. Or maybe he was just smarter than the rest of us, but my grandfather did not suffer fools. He just didn’t want to hear it. He had no time for the whining… the “but he got to do it” or “it’s just not fair”…  No, he would have none of it. Even when what we were battling was not each other, but something deep inside ourselves, the answer was always the same – “Focus on something else. Focus on someone else.” 

And it has always worked. Which is why it is so surprising to me, with this 100% effectiveness, I have had to learn this lesson again and again and again. Yesterday I was having a bit of a melt down, and I’m being generous. It was not pretty. All morning long. By the afternoon, even I was tired of hearing the voices in my head. So I changed them. Focus on something else. Someone else. That something was going to be cookies. That someone was going to be my mother in law. Because even nearing a century old, she still loves sugar. 

The signs were there – as I suppose they always are. Two cups of butter. That’s a lot of butter. Of course there was going to be a lot of dough. But I mixed up the recipe. Filled my mixing bowl to the rim. Made my tester cookie. Perfect. Hurray. Soon the voices in my head were silenced by a layer of flour. Roll. Cut. Bake. Roll. Cut. Bake. There were so many cookies. And then the frosting. It was hours. By the end I was exhausted. And lighter. And happy. 

Today we will deliver the cookies — sugar and lessons in tow. The seasons of both are so very sweet.


2 Comments

Bagels and napkins.

She called me at work. It was my first real job out of college. We didn’t really celebrate the holidays then. My mother didn’t like to cook. So it was a big surprise when she said she was going to defrost the turkey she found in the freezer. I said I would come home and we would celebrate Thanksgiving. A couple hours later she called and said it turned out to be just a bag of ice. “Do you remember buying a turkey?” I asked. She said, “I don’t remember buying the bag of ice.”

We laughed. Hard! We knew what a gift this was! She drove to Minneapolis instead. We had wine and toasted bagels and made our plans for the next day of shopping. I will be forever grateful for these times! Our only traditions were love and joy!!!

My friend sent me home with napkins of orange and yellow – adorned with the word “thankful.” I was tired yesterday, and no one gets Thursday off here – of course Thanksgiving is an American holiday — so it was just Dominique and I. We could have eaten left-overs, but I had those napkins. I had that friend. I had those memories. So I made some chicken and mushroom risotto. Poured the wine. Lit the candles, and we gave thanks in our own special way, with love and joy. My mother had taught me just how to do it.

Let me always see the gift.


Leave a comment

Love served.

Coffee has been around for about 500 years, and I’ve been drinking it almost as long. Within these centuries, it has changed again and again — Now with drink orders that contain over 500 words themselves. 

Still, perhaps the most popular drink here in France is the espresso. 

They gave us two espresso cups (demitasses) from their vacation. I made the coffee from our espresso machine. Nothing unusual. But when I picked up the cup, it felt different. Easy. Comfortable. I put the cup down and looked at the handle. The top part was flat. My thumb rested so simply, and made the most pleasurable grip on the cup. Such a simple change, and the coffee was the same, but the drinking experience felt new and delightful.

We get used to receiving things in a certain way. Giving things in a certain way. And just because it has functioned for 500 years or so, doesn’t mean it’s really working at its best. Take love for instance. We all give it and receive it in different ways. When it doesn’t come in the way we think we need, is it wrong? I want to say no. Oh, how I want to say no. I need to see it for what it is. Still love. I must learn to receive it in the way it is given. And serve it in the best way I know how. Love and life, forever can improve.

Good morning, my friends. There is coffee on the table. And kindness in the air.


Leave a comment

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.


3 Comments

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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!


Leave a comment

“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.