Jodi Hills

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


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Washed clean.

I walked through the garage and into our front yard. The grass was damp. I could see that Cathy was in the empty lot before Dynda’s house. It had just rained, this being spring. I didn’t walk on the road because I didn’t want to get my shoes dirty. I chose wet instead. I crossed through the line of trees that separated the lots. The leaves dampened my shirt. She sat there, near a big puddle. Her hands were covered in mud up to her elbows. It was hard for me to breathe. “Let’s make mud pies,” she said. I liked neither mud, nor pie, but I did like Cathy, so I walked a little closer. She passed to me a clump of wet soil, as if it were a gift. I held on for as long as I could, mere seconds. “My mom is calling,” I lied. She looked confused as I dropped the muck. I ran with arms extended. “Maaaaaaaaaaaaam!  Mom!” I yelled as I got closer. She ran out the door with the urgency I required. “What????” she asked. Not seeing my most obvious emergency. I thrust my hands in her direction. I shook them towards her. How could she not see?  Look! My hands. She smiled in acknowledgement. She knew I didn’t like my hands dirty. “Please…” my outthrust hands pleaded. She grabbed the hose, and I was saved.

I don’t know why it terrified me so – to have dirty hands. But it did. My mother never made fun of me. Never questioned why. Never told me how to feel. She just helped me wash them. And later, we had a good laugh. 

Through the years, there would be countless times that I, or she, would find ourselves in a mess. Sometimes created. Sometimes thrust upon us. But I never felt judged. We simply helped each other cry — washed ourselves clean. Helped each other grow. Helped each other laugh. And we were saved. 

I hope you have this. This person beside you. Who will reach out to your dirtiest of hands. Who will help you cry. Help you laugh. Just be there. Be there for you as you battle through love and fear. Battle through the letting in and the letting go. Be there when you call their name, with outstretched hands. And even more than this, I hope you ARE this person. (Just as I hope that I am.) 

Be there, as we all try to come clean.


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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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If she did worry, it never showed in her hands. She held. She gave. She touched.

It can’t be too personal. That’s what they taught me about writing at the University. The reader doesn’t want to know that anyone could have written it. They wanted to know that you wrote it. You knew it. You felt it. And you shared it with them. And so I did. 


When I paint. When I write, it is never generic. It is specific. It is personal. When I write about a house, it is a big, yellow, house, with a yellow so inviting, that if you were to walk by, just being you, it would call to you, “come in, you and your heart sit down.” When I write about my mother, people say, “Oh, that’s my mother.” “That’s my sister.” “That’s so me.” When I write about my heart, being overwhelmed or overjoyed, people say, “How did you know exactly what I was feeling?” And the power of these words show me, every day, I am not alone. We are not alone.


I made a painting of my grandmother’s hands. It has been purchased from Chicago to San Francisco. And I know that a piece of my grandmother gets to go there. She gets to pass over Wrigley Field, through the Magnificent Mile, into the loving arms of Illinois. She crosses the largest bridge a girl from Minnesota could ever imagine. And she shows them her hands. These strong and beautiful hands. These hands that could raise nine children, could also build bridges and stadiums, and we were not that different. We were a part of it all. She was. I am.

Each painting holds a story. Each picture, each phrase, is me, with my nose pressed up against the window pane, on Van Dyke Road, nearly wearing the window through with wishes and plans and dreams. Connecting us all, they would take me farther than I even dared to dream.


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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.”