Jodi Hills

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


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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!


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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!


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Taste this life!

I have eaten a lot of jelly in my life. At hotels. Restaurants. Even my own house. But eating jelly that I have made, from fruit that I have picked, from a tree in our garden, and put on bread (that I have also made) – well, now this is new. New and exciting! I can honestly say that I think about it before I go to sleep, as if it were Christmas Eve!


Maybe it’s the taste. The freshness. The effort made. The sharing with someone you love. Or maybe it’s figuring out that this is probably “IT” – finding the joy in the small things. Celebrating the little things. Figuring out that there are 364 other “eves” to Christmas – that can all be just as exciting!!


I love that the cover of the jar matches the jelly that colors the toast that brightens the breakfast that fills my soul and begins my day! That’s a good morning! Perhaps even a holiday! The little things — they that make living such a big deal!!!!!!!


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Any Wednesday

I never imagined you could barbecue sardines. In my head, they were only those tiny little fish in a tin box. So many things to discover. Yes, they do come in bigger sizes. Yes, you can barbecue them. And yes, you have to separate the head and the bones on your own plate. And yes, they are delicious!

There is a certain luxury to having a barbecue on a Wednesday afternoon. Drinking a cool white wine, in the shade of the provencal sun. No longer reserved for a Sunday, but an any day. So was our Wednesday. He was grilling sardines as I sipped the wine and I thought, what a picture of France! (but I never stopped to take a photo) After we got home I thought, I should have taken a picture — capture the moment. But sometimes, when you stop to capture the moment, it disappears. So I didn’t have a picture on my phone, but I had one in my head. It raced down to my hands and on to the paper. The beautiful sardines. So black they turned blue. Grays turning into greens. The moment, not captured, that sounds too harsh, but more embraced. Embraced in the permanence of heart and acrylic.

I don’t know what this day will bring. This Thursday. Perhaps it will turn into a Saturday, if I let it. Why not?! There are so many things to learn. To see. Nothing to be confined in tiny tin boxes, but spread across summer skies and welcoming canvas.

Happy Day, everyone!


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Flavor


I began sauteing some chicken cajun style and added some juicy green peas. It was delicious. That evening, I added some more peas into the same pan, and a little more spices. The next day, we still had peas, so I barbecued chicken and herb sausages on the grill and added them to the pan of peas. Delicious. We ate all the peas, so I sauteed some asparagus in the same pan and we ate with the sausages. All the flavor from each day mixed and melded and just got tastier! Last night we only had a little asparagus and a tiny bit of sausage left, so in that same flavor-filled pan, I made an aspargus/sausage and cheese omelette. Everything used. Nothing wasted. I washed the pan. And we begin again.


Every day I use this body to create something. Some days I add a little paint. Some days I add some words. I sprinkle in a few salty tears, and some sweet tears of tenderness. A dollop of laughter. And a huge helping of joy. Along the way, I do fall. Sometimes I get dirty. But everything is valuable. Every experience used. Nothing is wasted. And if you ask me how I am today, I will tell you, “Well, I’m just getting tastier!”

Fill your heart. Feed your soul. Taste this life.