Jodi Hills

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


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Paying attention.

Cluttered with nightmares and nonsense, I don’t normally put that much stock into my dreams. But all last night, I was trying to sign up for another year of university. Hour after hour I searched for the registration. Went through the pamphlets. Made appointments with my advisor. Even after waking up twice, I went right back to it. Would I rent the apartment near campus? Would I get an advanced degree? Academia all night long. I’m not complaining – it was far from the normal hauntings. So was it a sign?

Signs are funny things. They are probably all around us – all the time. Some meant for us. Some maybe not. Some gathered in. Some trampled over. I guess it is what we choose to see. And maybe when we miss it, it repeats itself. Over and over again. Until we pay attention. 

I guess it’s time for me to keep learning. Or maybe, it’s a sign to tell myself that I AM still learning. I will forever be learning. And that is not a nightmare, but a gift. And that’s a hard one for me to, well, learn. I can get myself trapped in a worry. Stuck in a pattern of fearing the unknown. But it will always be there — through all the nightmares and nonsense — there will be growth. There will be challenges. There will be learning. Beauty in it all. 

The sun rises brand new, telling me, “If I’m not happy in this time, in this place, I’m not paying attention.”


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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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Love’s well-lit path.

How could it be ten years? It seems impossible. And yet, Facebook, Google and my friend from Chicago all sent reminders of the day. It was a grand show of my giant paintings at Flourish Gallery.

I marvel at all that has changed…and all that has not.

I don’t paint in the same style. I am married. I live abroad. Somedays, with a lot of effort, I don’t even speak the same language. Standing then, in the glow of the windy city preparing for the holidays to come, next to a giant painting of Ella Fitzgerald, I wasn’t even imagining any of it. I suppose it’s like the old joke says, “go ahead, make some plans…”

But here’s what is the same. The holidays still come. Friends remain within heart-reach. The light of the season is all around. And the well-lit path of love is still surprising me, guiding me.

Everything changes. Each navigation with it’s own challenges, difficulties. Ah, but the light… that glorious light. It always guides me home.


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A taste of honey.

I can’t say that I ever really liked honey. Well, to be fair, I’m not certain that I had ever really tasted it. Sure, I had the occasional squeeze from a plastic bear, but I understand now that that was probably just manufactured liquid sugar. 

I liked the sound of it – Le miel de lavande, and then I had a taste of it. Lavender honey. My shoes still covered in the lavender field’s morning dew, we purchased a jar from the local vendor. At home, I put a little (let’s not kid ourselves, a lot) on my homemade toasted bread. OH, so this is honey!  Yes. Yes! I DO love honey. I guess you know when it is real. 

I guess it’s the same with everything, not the least of which — love. We’re quick to label so many emotions, connections with the word love. I know I did. Because we don’t know – certainly I didn’t. A taste of this, that, even the other… maybe this was it? Could this be it? And squeezing from the “honey bear” I tried to convince myself that it was good. But was it? Not really. Not for me. 

I suppose one could have stop searching, but my feet answered only to my heart, and it said “keep walking.” So I made my way, slowly, stumbling to the lavender fields. So this is it! This is love. Oui!

I don’t know all the answers, how the magic works, how our heart creates the most unlikely maps, but I do know this, if you can’t taste the honey, really taste it…keep walking. Love should be delicious!


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Freedom.

It’s remarkable, I suppose, but there has never been a time in my life when I haven’t felt free. Imagine that. Oh, sure, there have been so many obstacles and challenges. Churches that said you can’t come here. Schools I couldn’t afford. (Lots of things I couldn’t afford.) But in my heart and mind, I have always felt free to make a choice, sometimes a different one when one path failed, but always free to make that new choice.

Maybe it’s because I had a mother, who passed by the inexpensive levels of the department store and dared to believe that she deserved something beautiful, sometimes even if it was just to look. Maybe it’s because I had teachers who, without knowledge of my position or circumstance, said you can be a writer, you can be something, anything. Maybe it’s because, even in my darkest hours, the sun had the audacity to rise each morning, and dare me to come along. Maybe it’s because in those sunlit mornings I could see that even when some of those churches, schools, country clubs, stores, were maybe off limits or out of my budget, I could see that the roads were always open. So I took them.

Not to be all Pollyanna. There are no free rides on these open roads. There will be days you have to fight your very soul to take that next step, only to climb over the next road block. But keep moving. Keep moving. Rest when you need to, but never quit. Freedom isn’t given, it’s worked for, step by step.

Yesterday, here in France, we were having a family barbecue. I learn a little more of the French language, word by word, day by day. It used to feel like drowning, being in a group of people all laughing and talking when I had no idea what was going on. But each day I kick and thrash and burst my head above the water and I join in the conversation, because I want to, I need to, and I am free to do it! What a glorious feeling that is – to be a part of something bigger than myself, bigger than my own country even – this is freedom! And even though it was only the 3rd, I laughed and smiled and I celebrated! I hope you can do the same. Today, and every day after. Happy Fourth of July!


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A tourist in pink.


It’s summer in Aix — our peak tourist season. We were just walking through town – going to Dominique’s dentist appointment. I wanted to feel what they were feeling – the tourists. I started looking around. Wow. It really is beautiful! I took a few pictures. The houses, the churches, the scent of the pink flowers — I saw it all again, for the first time.

We decided to stop at the fish market. We bought some sea bass (loop de mer) for the barbecue. And some vegetables for the plancha. Some rosé wine for the imagination.
We ate slowly in the summer air, and I fell in love, again, for the first time.

The world is pretty extraordinary. But we have to decide to see it, every day. I suppose that’s why I paint. In these moments, I have to forget all the “well, I’ve seen this before…” — all the “it’s just another day…” — forget the noise of “but this… and this.. and my…”. I have to just stop, and see something for the first time. Look at the flower. It’s brand new. It’s waiting just for you. I stop a bit of time, a vacation from my brain, a tourist in pink.





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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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Wobble.

I got up early to do my yoga. I brought the mat in another room so I wouldn’t wake up Dominique. Same house. Same routine. Just a new perspective. In this practice, it is necessary to focus on an object to retain your balance in the poses. This morning, my focal point was different. And oh, how I wobbled. What was so different? I know this room. And yet, this slight change completely threw off my balance. I’ll admit I was a bit uncomfortable. Not enough to quit. So I wobbled my way through.

Life changes constantly. We can’t prepare ourselves for everything. That would be impossible. But I think we can teach ourselves, little by little, to feel the discomfort, and work through it. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable. How else would we learn anything? Somewhere along the line, some big voice (maybe television, internet) told us that we have to be “happy” all the time, or we’re not living right. Now, I like happy — who doesn’t? But I also like feeling accomplished. I like feeling challenged. Feeling successful. Vulnerable. Creative. Open. Loved. And with all of these, you’re going to feel a little “wobble.” But this is also, (for me anyway) where the good stuff gets in –sneaks in as I fumble about.

In the last years, almost everything has changed for me. Country. Language. Surroundings. But these were the doors for love. So I opened them. Never have I felt more unbalanced. Never have I felt more loved.

Long before I ever imagined such a change, I wrote in my first book, “I am amazed that you let me fumble along beside you…” Still true — perhaps never more. So don’t be afraid. Wake up. Dare to dream. Dare to try. Dare to love. Dare to wobble.


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All the places I’ve been, I feel like going home.

For years I searched for “home.” Then I began to write about it. Paint it. And slowly, as most answers come, it became clear that “home,” not unlike “happiness,” was nothing to be found, but created. Continuously. Moment by moment. Bit by bit. So I did. I do.

You may think, oh, that’s too much work… but no, it was a relief. It IS a relief — a relief to stop searching, and just be. I think they both (this home, this happiness) have to be fluid, ever changing. Because everything does change. What made me happy twenty years ago, yesterday, is not the same as today. So I have to change. Grow. Decide even. What gives me joy? What gives me comfort? Right here. Right now. And live in that. And in giving myself the permission, the power, to change, to grow, and to decide, I feel — well, happy — and I can live here (wherever that may be), in this heart, in this moment, and think, this is home.


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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.