Jodi Hills

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


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Dinner Theatre.

We were waiting to be served. And waiting. Dishes were clinking and clanking from the chosen few that already had their meals. The Chanhassen Dinner theatre was filled in the dim theatre light. Table by table people were delivered their pre-play food. Of course all were appeased with a complimentary glass of wine. And then another. The kitchen must have been having a problem. No explanations were brought forward. We were getting so hungry, my mother and I. 

We loved going to the theatre. We saw almost everything. It wasn’t just about the performance, we had a production of our own. The pre-shopping at Ridgedale or Southdale. The getting dressed while sipping skim vanilla lattes. Make-up. Hair. A dash of perfume. The excitement building. The drive to the theatre. Walking from the parking lot without wrinkling. Everything building toward the peak of receiving this meal. So the additional 30 to 40 minute wait seemed like a lifetime. The extra glass of wine was not in the schedule, and it started to take hold. My mom was getting chattier. Looking over this shoulder and that. “What could be taking so long?  Are they ever going to serve us?  I don’t understand. This has never happened before…”  She couldn’t get the next line out without laughing — the “Don’t they know who we are???” line. Oh how we laughed. Laughed with wine. Laughed without worry. Laughed with the knowledge that we WERE important – the most important of all (at least to each other). 

When the plates finally arrived, my mother napkined her lap, (a napkin that was already filled with laughter-tears). I did the same. She sat up straight. I followed. She smoothed out the sleeves of her ultra-white ruffled blouse. She was pure elegance, I thought. She balanced the fork in her polished hand. Lifted the vegetable to her mouth. She nodded in approval as she chewed. Swallowed, and said, “These are the best damn peas I’ve ever had!” I flung my napkin to my face to keep the laughter from snorting out of my nose. 

I don’t remember which play it was. I’m sure it was good. But I will never forget those peas. My mother.

We think it’s the big things we will miss. I suppose it never is. Today, share something small with someone you love. A bit of your heart. A giggle. It may just last a lifetime.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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Welcome to the garden.

I found out yesterday that I have been gardening since the age of five.

I certainly never wanted to get my hands dirty. Some of the neighbor girls made mud pies — the thought of it…. no! I constantly checked to see if the outdoor hose was working, just in case. 

My grandmother made real pies, but still, her hands… deep in the garden, she pulled and cut the rhubarb. You could see it from the dining room window. And I was fascinated that the day before, or even that very morning, it was in the ground, and now, here it sat, round and steaming, crusted, on the table.

I was asked the other day at what age I started to write, to paint. 5 years old. Did you share it? she asked. Oh, yes! With my mother. I would come out of my bedroom, arms straight out – holding it like the steaming pie I imagined it to be, and presented it. Words and paintings, I thought, were meant to be devoured.  

Mid-feast in my newest read, “Our Missing Hearts,” by Celeste Ng, I read that the word “author” means to bring to life, to grow. Like a gardener, I thought. 

She asked me if there were other writers, artists, in the family. No, I said, but there were gardeners, farmers — people with hands and hearts, dirtied by life’s abundance of heartache, challenge and joy. Teaching, inspiring, giving everything, with arms reaching straight out — the authors of living.

Each day, ready or not, we will be asked to grow, to give. The sun comes up, and says, “Welcome to the garden!”


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In close.


I rarely saw my grandmother without an apron. There were so many children. Grandchildren. The kitchen was always in motion. I liked standing next to her. So close. When she wore the embroidered apron – the one with the flowers – I would press my head as close to her hip as I could. This hug, when held for longer than she had time for – (yet she never pushed me away) – this hug could produce an imprint on my cheek of the same flowers. An imprint that didn’t last long on my face, but still remains on my heart.

Dishes clanked. Smells arose. Voices jabbered. And then the whirlwind would stop. She needed something from the basement. She told me to run and get it. The basement. I’ll admit I was afraid. Being only apron high, it wasn’t unusual, but I wanted to be brave. My grandmother canned. There was a whole wall of canned good down there. But to get to what she needed, I would have to go descend the darkened stairs. Past the hooks of overalls that looked like men waiting. I would have to tune out the furnace. The creaks of wood. She pushed the small of my back in the direction of the stairs. Of course I would do it. I held my breath, as if going under water. Raced my bumper tennis shoes down the steps. Grabbed the glass jar filled with what I could only imagine was a science experiment and ran back up the stairs. I handed it to her beaming. She had no idea what I had risked, but she hugged me just the same.

Yesterday, we went to see Dominique’s mother. She clings to the day. Leaving, sad, I heard through the open windows of the house next door, the clanking of the dishes. Silverware. Glass. Stove. A woman singing over the din. The sounds of life. I smiled, feeling the embroidered flowers on my heart.

This love. Knowing your heart, if you’re giving it all, will break and mend and break again. Still, I, we, will risk any darkened stairs to experience it. The sun begins to light today’s path. To this day, this life, I make a promise to feel it – really feel it – and, joyfully, I pull myself in close.


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Worth saving.

The summer months off from school, we called vacation. And they were. We didn’t go anywhere. No hotels or restaurants. No fancy monuments. No positioning for a selfie – I didn’t even own a camera. But it was vacation. A celebration every day. 

I still feel it. Waking up each morning with the summer light. But I have to make an effort. Certainly. Because that feeling can easily get lost in a pile of laundry. 

Yesterday was a beautiful summer day. Blue sky. Green grass. Birds singing. Sprinklers watering. But there was work to be done. Washing. Ironing. Beds to be made. Fighting with the duvet covers, I could feel the “vacation” slipping away. And we’re not given that many. It had to be saved. It was worth saving. 

So I grilled the shrimp. Sauteed the peas. Boiled the fresh pasta. Cut the homemade bread. Let the cheese breathe beside the wine. And we ate slowly in our summer kitchen restaurant. Our vacation was saved. I was saved. 

I was certain after every grade that my summer would never end. Even returning again and again to school, I believed in the eternity of summer. I guess I still do. The magic of my heart’s vacation — that is something to hold on to, something to be saved.


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The makers.

Yesterday we went on a mini-adventure. Just an hour from our home. A small village. We wanted to see the local pottery shop. It has been in operation since 1665. Something that has survived that long deserves our attention.  

Along the way, in the countryside, I saw something new. (New to me, clearly very old.) They looked like brick silos. They were to house the pigeons, my husband explained. We discussed the pigeons for many miles. Both in amazement that this was the way they used to get messages from place to place. Pigeons. Messages strapped to them. We complain when the internet is slow. 

Returning home, I sat by the window, looking up pigeons on my computer. I could see our “locals” sitting by the side of the tree. Most of “our” pigeons barely fly anymore. How lazy, I thought, then quickly caught myself as I checked my mail (my email that can arrive almost instantly from another country.)

It’s easy to forget about the makers. Those who crafted things by hand. Came up with solutions to problems. 

We ate our evening meal on the plates we purchased from the potter – the most beautiful plates I have ever seen. Each touched by human hands. Potters. Still making dishes. Not one exactly the same. Beautifully imperfect. 

We have the luxury of so many things – and I use them every day. I love technology. I am so grateful for the ease of everyday living. But I give thanks for those who got us here. And for those who continue to remind us of the journey. The makers. The hands that continue to create. Touch. The parents and grandparents that still carry the stories, messages strapped on hearts and wings. Journeys that deserve our attention — not one exactly the same. Beautifully imperfect.


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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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Fizz.

An Italian Fizz cocktail, with Dutch tulips, in front of the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France – this was yesterday’s lunch. Of course we had a few healthy things like calamari, fish, and carrots. But sometimes (all the time) you have to feed your soul, and not just your stomachs.


It pleases me to see how the drink matches the tulips. The colors meld into each other. This is so satisfying. This was not vacation, but a Sunday, a day — a day that could have easily been ordinary. They all can be, I guess…but we need to give ourselves permission to enjoy. It’s so easy to let the days just go by. But we’re not given that many. Each one is priceless. I don’t want to let any of them slip through the cracks, my fingers, my attention.


I don’t know what colors today will bring. From my desk, I can see the golden leaves of the apricot tree — shining against the evergreen of the pines. They tell me to look around. Look within. There is so much to enjoy. See everything. Feel everything. Fill your heart. Feed your soul. Taste this life!