Jodi Hills

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


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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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Worth a second look.

The first time we went to Lafayette, a few years ago, we didn’t really like the city. To be fair, we didn’t really see it. We lost a tire (we found it, as it rolled past our moving rental car) and spent the afternoon at the gas station. By the time it was finished, we asked the station attendant, where was the city center. He seemed baffled and said, “I think we’re in it.”  Banking this as truth, we drove on. 

Just before arriving in Lafayette this year, I asked Dominique, “Have we been here before?” We relived the runaway tire story and laughed. We both decided, “Not really.” In the daylight this time, we could see all the signage urging us to try the boudin balls. We love trying local food. Winding our way through the barriers set up for the Mardis Gras parade, we stumbled upon a small restaurant that said, “still open.” We ordered the pride of Lafayette – the boudin – not really in a ball, but more of a sausage – and it was delicious. We started to really see Lafayette. We went to an antique shop. They had real antiques, not Chinese remakes. We browsed slowly, thoughtfully, wishing we had more room in our suitcases. We visited with the owner. He was delighted we were visiting from France. We praised his store. Offered our apologies for not being able to buy anything because of the travel. He went into the back room. Came back with little packets. “I want you to have these.” They were flower seeds. Almost weightless, but for the meaning. “Plant them when you get back, then you will have a part of us there.”

Lafayette in the light of day. In the light of the people. Beautiful. We really saw it. 

It is springtime now in the south of France. Soon we will plant these flower seeds, and get a second look (or third) at Lafayette. And I suppose that is what spring is all about – giving us a second look, another chance. Another chance to see the beauty that this world holds. The weight of this! The importance! I don’t want to miss a thing!


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Journey home.

The only creative power I know is that of what might roughly be called ‘love’; not of course a sentimental love: a far more impersonal and less individual emotion. I sometimes think that migratory birds may have it for each other. They fly in the same direction, and have never been seen to interfere with each other’s flights.” Phyllis Bottome

It’s always a bit of an adjustment, returning home after traveling. My brain is usually just a beat off, but in that beat I find myself falling in love again with my own life. What a gift that is! Everything is brand new, just for a moment. The morning croissant, just a little more flavorful. The bathroom lighting, more forgiving than the last hotel. My pillow — my pillow!! The paintings on the wall, in the studio — my heart. The candles lit. The windows open. The trees in the garden know my footsteps. The birds are singing. I am in love.

I sat down to make my first painting after this trip, this migration, and I am the bird after a long flight. I am filled with all the colors of travel, and all of the life of the familiar. My brain, still a little fuzzy, relies on my hands, my heart, for they know what to do — and I follow. Stroke by stroke. Bird by bird. I know who I am. And I am home.  

It is my wish for everyone. The sky is big, and meant to be shared, meant to be loved, knowing we are all on this beautiful and constant journey home.


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Creating a song.

My mom and I drove to Galveston for the sole reason of the Glen Campbell song of the same name. It wouldn’t be the last time I was lured by the romance of a song.

Yesterday, my husband and I drove to Lake Charles, LA. We can thank Lucinda Williams for that. I (we) have been singing her song “Lake Charles” since we entered the South. The glorious power of seeing things through someone else’s eyes.

Maybe that’s the best thing about all of the arts — seeing things as others see them. In the city where we live in France, Aix en Provence, the Sainte Victoire mountain is the star. Cezanne painted it again and again. I have often wondered if it would have had the same appeal if he hadn’t shown us the beauty that he saw. I’m not sure, because now I can’t unsee it. And it is beautiful.

I write of the simple things. Paint them as well. Some might even say ordinary. I tell you of my home town. My mother. My grandparents. My school. For me, none of it is ordinary. And maybe you see it. See them. And maybe it helps you see the extraordinary beauty of your own life. And with any luck, that beauty gets stuck in your head, like a favorite song.


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Where’s Julian?


I have asked that question in English, and French, countless times. I would have never met him had I not married his father’s brother… but I did. Now I wonder where he is. He is a traveler. Not a tourist. He immerses himself into different cultures. Learns different languages. Wanders. You can see it in his face, his eyes. Always looking onward.
He once sent a video from a hole in a village, maybe Cambodia, I’m not sure, but it was, to be polite, remote, this community bathroom (this giant hole), and I thought, wait, they have internet? The world offers opportunities. Chances. And Julian takes them.


As Dominique and I travel, moving from hotel to hotel. I look at the walls. Where is the art? Certainly not on these walls. Safe squiggles. Safe words – “good vibes only.” Every instagram picture with a million likes. No chances here. So we look for the art, in the people, the places, the cultures, the land, and hope, by some glorious chance, it finds its way into my heart and hands and onto the canvas and page.


I know some might say Julian should stop. Settle down. Fall in love. But I think, isn’t he? In love I mean? I think he’s in love with his own life. And that’s beautiful. That’s more than a safe squiggle on a wall. That, my friends, is art.


I understand this is not for everyone — travel — but I’m talking about living. I encourage you to take a chance. On life. In love. On yourself. This will take you where? — farther, further, than you could ever imagine!


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The waves are calling.

Things have always been more clear for me on paper. It starts in my brain. Works its way through my heart. Travels down my arm. Through the pencil. Onto the paper. Now, I’ve always said I’m not one to edit. Once the words are on the paper, I try to keep them as pure as they arrived. I suppose one could say they’ve been filtered as they make this journey from my head to the paper, and that’s probably true. My brain has an idea, so many creative ideas, but I believe it is my heart that keeps them honest, real. And by the time it scratches through the lead of the pencil, (or the keys of the computer) I can trust that these are the words I believe. All the questions and concerns and worries that my poor brain can create, invent, inflate…when I can get to the core of them, calmly work through them, release them onto the paper, they are never the gale force winds that were whipping around my brain, but a calm and peaceful breeze of truth, that brushes across my face.

I used to love standing on the shore of Lake Michigan on a summer Chicago day. As the waves rolled in, I would tell them my thoughts and concerns, imagining they gathered them in, reversed and took them back out to the open water. And I was lighter. I was free. I was saved. This for me, is how I write. Releasing the thoughts. Letting them go. Standing on the shore. Free.

Each morning, I ask the words to take me where I only feel the wind upon my face. And with any luck, I reach out my hand, and take you with me.


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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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The fourth R.

In grade school, they called them the three Rs — reading, writing, and arithmetic. We had so much to learn, I guess we never questioned it. Years later, I was talking with a friend about it. He said, “You know, arithmetic doesn’t start with an R…” “Not to mention writing,” I replied. We laughed!

My husband and I love to visit antique stores. Traveling through the US, we get a feel for each part of the country as we thumb through the stories they leave behind. Stories that, if touched, or purchased, become part of ours. I love pins and patches. I fill my jackets. They become roadmaps of our travels. I picked up a high school letter. It was in great condition. The letter R. I held it up to Dominique. “Isn’t it great!” I said.
“What does the R stand for?” he asked. And without missing a beat, he answered his own question — Rtist. We laughed for about 20 minutes as I carried it through the store. Still laughing as I purchased it at the counter. (Still laughing as I type this.) My fourth R! Reading, writing, arithmetic, artist.

I fell in love with Dominique all over again! He knows me. I never question it.

This last trip to Alexandria, I found a plain gray sweatshirt. Yesterday, back in France, in the sewing room with the picture of my Grandma Elsie (a great seamstress), I sewed the R in place. Attached a couple of pins. Added the “tist” to my “R” – and claimed once again, that I am an artist. What a joy! What a relief — to be yourself! To live the vocabulary of your own heart – my wish for you – every day!


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The lightness of now.

I have seen the Berlin Wall in Berlin, and at the University of Virginia in the US. You can learn something everywhere. In the most expected and least expected places, if you are open to seeing it.


At a dinner party, early in my move to France, someone asked me about painting portraits. Was there a difference between the American faces and European faces? What a good question! And yes, there was, I thought. There is. Europeans carry a history that the youth of Americans can’t yet possess. Wars and walls, even though ended, they never really disappear. Their load gets lighter perhaps, but even scattered, they remain.


There is so much to learn and to see. In the faces. The places. The scatterings of others. And I suppose one of the greatest gifts of this time spent learning, is less time spent creating the same mistakes. Wouldn’t that be something! Wouldn’t we all be a little lighter? If all the walls became merely pebbles in learned shoes.


The lightness of knowledge. Of now. What a beautiful reward. Now that’s something to see!


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At the core.

We arrived in this small city. At the visitor’s center, the attendant seemed shocked, not only that we entered, but that anyone did. It soon became clear that we were perhaps her first “customers.” She had long forgotten the facts they must have presented her with upon her hiring. She smiled, and struggled for something to say. When we asked about her city, she began each answer like an unprepared geography student when the teacher gave a pop quiz. “Where are the columns from?” I asked. “I wanna say…” and she paused, clearly searching her brain for something.

Loaded with two maps and no information, we wandered the city. It was functional. One might say even nice, but nothing stood out. Or nothing we could find. The afternoon was underwhelming and left us a bit weary. With one last attempt to save the visit, we walked the streets to find a restaurant. First restaurant, no parking. Second restaurant, no one inside – never a good sign. Third restaurant, ok,let’s give it a try. We ordered, and within a few minutes, a young couple sat down at the bar beside us. He asked politely if they could sit near us. And then thanked us. We already felt better. Polite. Young. Smiling. Maybe this was the city. We began to visit. Was that a custom beer they were drinking? Did they live here? And so it began. Jobs. Life. Travel. Art. Laughter. And here it was. Right next to us. The heart of the city. And the day was not only saved, but enjoyed, greatly.

It’s easy to find the obvious. The Eiffel Tower. The Empire State Building. Sometimes you have to look a little deeper. Go a little deeper. Attractions are everywhere. They don’t all have a brochure, but they can magical just the same. Worth the visit!