Jodi Hills

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


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To rise above.

I began mixing up the bread dough this morning. The first thing I have to do is to proof the yeast (to make sure that it actually does what it claims it can). If it’s good, with a little sugar and warm water, it will show you exactly what it is capable of. And when it works, rises up to meet you, you’re good to continue. 

Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” People will often say, after doing something wrong, “Oh that’s not who I am…” Or after being mistreated by someone, say, “It’s ok, that’s not who they are…” I’m sure I have been guilty of both. I’m sure we all have. But Maya was right. People will show you who they are, again and again. Some good. Some very bad. And the key is to believe them. To stop asking for proof when someone is kind to you. To stop aking for proof when they are not. 

Last week, when making bread, for the first time in a long while, the yeast didn’t work. I threw it away and started with some new yeast. It never would have occured to me to try and proof it again — it told me right from the start — “I’m not going work.”  Maybe it’s a bit harder to see in humans, but it’s still there, usually right in front of us. We just have to be willing to see it. Embrace the good. Walk away from the bad. 

I want to be better at this — be who I claim to be — who I want to be. And see others for the truth that they offer. What if we all did that? Offered the world proof that we truly can rise up!


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Covered in dough.

A few years ago I received a mixer as a present. It’s a nice mixer. I took it out of the box. My husband looked at it, and asked, “What does it make?”

I smiled. “Well, it doesn’t “make” anything. I can use it when I’m making bread, or a cake, but by itself, it really doesn’t do anything.” 

People ask me all the time, “What inspires you?” I suppose it’s the same answer. Nothing. If you are looking for something else, someone else, to do the work of inspiring, then you’re going to be very disappointed, and well, uninspired. You have to participate. It’s not enough to find inspiration, you have to “be inspired.” Gather if from within. A book on its own is only paper. But if you pick it up, read it, feel it, look up the words, trace them with your fingers, really live inside the pages – you, my friend, will be beyond inspired. Now, you might say, “Well, it has to be a good book.” Again, I disagree. When I’m reading something fantastic, something I adore, I think, “Wow, I want to be this good! I want to be better. I want to work harder!”  When I read something that I don’t think is very good, say – I can see the ending coming for miles, then I think, “I can do better than this!” So I write some more. 

Paintings. Music. Nature. It’s all out there. Just waiting for you to look, listen, explore. Eat the candy. Drink the coffee. Light the candles. Sip the wine. Take the walks. Have the conversations. Be inspired!

It’s messy, for sure, but delightfully so! Get your mind, heart and hands, covered in dough.


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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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The patience of croissant.

The patience of croissants.


I eased into baking.  Perhaps I had been waiting for permission, or an invitation into the kitchen, and both finally came when I moved to France.  


I started slowly, a few cookies.  And I always searched for the kind of recipe that didn’t have to be chilled.  I couldn’t possibly wait an hour. I’m not sure what I was in a hurry for, but I was – once started, it had to be done!  I slowly branched out into those that needed to be chilled.  I must admit, at first I didn’t chill the dough for the minimum of one hour, but tried putting the dough in the freezer for 30 minutes.  Oh, patience.  Or was it control?  Either way, I slowly loosened the reins and as the dough chilled, so too did I.  


I started making bread.  This took more patience, half a day.  Then brioche, a full day.  Then croissant, two days.  Two days!  I wasn’t in a hurry. I wasn’t in control. And I was fine.  The dough was in control. It knew what needed to be done and I went along with it.  Rolled with it. Let it chill in between. And rolled with it again.  The first time our home had the scent of a boulangerie, I knew it was worth it! This was the reward. A fresh buttery croissant, that came from hands, both in the work, and the letting go. 
I often have to tell myself to breathe. To do the work, and then let go.  The work has always come more easily to me, but I’m learning each day how to trust the process, trust the time given, trust the “dough.” With that, the process has too become the reward, not the punishment. And the result, each day becomes, well, just a little more delicious!  

Here comes the sun!  Bon appétit!


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Messy.

I was baking cookies yesterday and my husband told me of the line in the french poem, “Rien n’est plus beau que les mains d’une femme dans la farine” (Nothing is more beautiful than the hands of a woman in the flour).

I think this is where we see the love, in the efforts made. Nothing is more precious than the gift that comes from the heart-led hand. The painting. The handwritten note. The bread coming out of the oven. The melody strummed on the guitar. We don’t all have the same talents, but we can all offer a bit of our time, a bit of ourselves.

And it’s not just about the givers. We also have to be able to receive. When we allow people to offer their gifts, we are in fact giving them a gift too.

Today, let’s get messy, messy in the exchange of kindess. These gifts covered in love’s white flour — “Rien n’est plus beau.”


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The process


Yesterday I painted Fran Lebowitz for the soul purpose of painting Fran Lebowitz.  I would not sell her (in fact, I knew I would be giving her to a friend who adores her). I would not gain any exposure. There are no hashtags. Fran Lebowitz does not own a phone.  She would not see it.  She doesn’t own a computer. She would not come to France, because she doesn’t leave New York.  No, this was about the process. The joy of taking a blank piece of paper and creating an image. Seeing her come to life with each stroke. I love to draw. To paint. To create. I really love it. And I get to do it!  Imagine that!  Imagine – doing what you love!!! Maybe the best way I have to show my gratitude for this, is to do it – to enjoy it – for all that it is.  And so I painted Fran Lebowitz, not for the money, or the selfie, or the hashtag, but simply to give thanks for the opportunity to do it.  And I am grateful.  I packed her up this morning and she is on her way to my friend’s house in Texas, where I know she will be loved.  Gratitude keeps giving. 

Today I encourage you to enjoy the process.  Of living.  If you are baking a cake, lick the batter – share it with your kids, your husband, yourself. Smell the sugar melding with the butter as it bakes.  Pour some tea and enjoy. 

If you’re drawing in your sketchbook, don’t be afraid to scribble.  Scribble – it’s fun to even say the word.  Life is not perfection, it’s process.

Whatever you do today, take a minute to enjoy it.  This is how we give thanks. And if we’re lucky, truly blessed, we’ll get another day tomorrow.  Enjoy!