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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Proof.



In our travels, the greatest common denominator (look, I’m finally using that high school math) is the “selfie.” People taking pictures, seemingly, not of the experience they are having, but creating some sort of proof that they were there. For example, the amount of selfie sticks in Venice almost obstructed the 360 degrees of beauty. What are they missing in trying to gain all this proof?

When I cook, I like to serve everything on a platter. I like a good presentation. I like a set table. In two weeks of making meals at my mother’s house, I have yet to take a picture of the food.

My niece took us out for a joyful lunch yesterday. Not one picture of the food. I can still feel the hug hello. I can feel the hug goodbye. I remember the conversations. I’m still laughing. I can still hear both nephews saying “I love you.” Proof.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good story, a good photograph, a good memory. But I’m probably most pleased when I get home from a vacation, a lunch, an event, and think, “Oh, I was having so much fun, I forgot to take a picture.” My heart feels full. My brain races over the experience. My face opens in a continuous smile. And if those I’m with feel it too, then that’s all the proof I need – I was there – I am here!


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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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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.