Jodi Hills

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


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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.


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How it should be.

It was at the State Theatre in Minneapolis that I first heard the Indigo Girls. Dayton’s used to put on an extreme fashion show each year for charity. Oh, just saying Dayton’s does something to my heart.) The theatre was dark and suddenly they blasted the intro for Fugitive by the Indigo girls, and the first model stepped out. It was a mixture of clothes and music, and city and night, art and diversity, and they sang, “Remember this as how it should be.” Oh, how I wanted to remember. 

My mother and I loved Dayton’s. Saturday mornings. Always before lunch. Trying on clothes at our thinnest. No need for food. We were fueled. Hands gently touching racks. Filling dressing rooms. Mirrors admired. Compliments given. Hearts full. Then with hands bagged it was off to lunch. To sip at the wine, and pull out each item, tell the story, live it with laughter and praise, and before I knew the words to the song I thought, “Remember this as how it should be.”

I was mowing the lawn yesterday. Listening to a podcast. They were interviewing the Indigo Girls. I couldn’t hear every word over the hum of the motor, but my heart… I can’t tell you what the models were wearing that beautiful evening, but I can recreate the feeling of hope and desire and pure excitement for a life recognized. I don’t recall every garment tried on or purchased with my mother, but as I sit here in my new Saturday morning, my heart is filled with laughter and praise. 

I suppose that’s the way it is for everything. And that’s how it should be — the experience. Today we plan to go visit a vineyard. I know I will forget the wine. Probably even the place. But the time…my heart is already singing.


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The captain’s table.

It was my first job after college. To say I was green would be an understatement. I had heard once in college the best way to keep the conversation going was to say, “Yes, and…” So that’s what I did, with everything. Even to things that clearly the correct answer would have been no. Like do you know how to work on the computer. Certainly I did not. I didn’t even own one, but yes, I said, and I learned. Quickly. Do you know how to layout a catalog, work with Adobe programs — certainly I did not, but yes, and I learned. They asked me to design the flyer for the company cruise. I remember the tag line, “Oooh weee, Oooh wee baby…” (for those of you who don’t know, that song continues – “won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?”) The most joyful yes I knew. They asked me if I wanted to go along, be the “Julie” from Love Boat. Yes, I said. You can take someone, they said, a friend, or significant other. I didn’t have a boyfriend, well, not one that I was willing to invest a week in. So I asked my mother. She said yes. 

Now to put it in perspective, it was not that long before that we had lived in an apartment where you couldn’t drink the water. It was not that long before that my mother lived on Heath Ice cream bars, because she was just too broken hearted to eat.  So to find ourselves at the captain’s table was more than a delightful surprise. We dressed up, made our faces up, our hair up, and our chins up, and sat as if we had always been there – up! Smiles, through course after course, we seemed to get higher and higher. And looking at my mother, I knew this is where she had always belonged. Where I had always seen her, even on dry ground, the dryest ground of a gravel road.

They, he, and she, will all try to tell you no. In their own fear, they will want to keep you down. “No, you can’t! No, you don’t belong here. No.” Just make sure your heart isn’t one of them. Make sure your heart believes in you – gives you the courage to look up – to say YES!

I see my mother at the captain’s table, and think, what a gift she gave herself – and what a gift she gave to me! Over all the negative voices that surrounded her, surrounded me, she said, YES! And I still believe.The sun is coming up – Oooooooh weeeeeeeee, Baby!


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The yellow chair.

She was the ex-wife of Hubert Humphrey’s son. When she called I didn’t know that. She just said she was interested in two paintings – The yellow chair, and The truth about you.  I was thrilled. Yes, of course, I could deliver. The yellow chair was huge, but I was fueled with excitement.  Before I brought the paintings in, she walked me around her place. I was surprised by all the dignitaries hanging on her wall. Was that her with the president? With the queen? Who was this woman? I just kept smiling. She kept talking. And picture by picture, word by word she revealed who she was — her world living as a Humphrey – (the closest I had been before was to the airport).  We had tea, (the first time I had ever had tea), and she told me of her marriage, her divorce, the indiscretions, and I felt like I was in a movie. We hung both paintings, and I drove away. Forever changed — not because I was now hanging next to the closest thing I knew to “royalty” — I’ve never cared that much about that — no, it was because I was let in, let into her world, and trusted with her story. And to me, that’s everything. 

I was in the seventh grade when I wrote my first novel (forgive me, it was really just a long story.) Hand written on lined paper. Stapled. I read it to my friend, Cindy Lanigan. I have no idea now what it was about. I don’t even have a copy. But I remember sitting in my yellow bedroom, reading it to her. It is terrifying to share your creations – your life – your heart. But she let me in. She listened and responded and we talked about life and Carol Burnett and everything seemed achievable.  Quite possibly giving me the courage to continue. 

What a thing it is to be let in. I carry with me every open door. Every open heart. Every person who smiled on me, and listened. Who trusted on me, and shared. And I am forever home. Forever possible.


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Still life.

I just couldn’t see it. I tried everything. (Obviously not everything, but a lot.) I was having one of those days — you know, where you just feel a little “off.”  I can’t tell you why, and I’m thankful they don’t come that often, but they do slip through once in a while. I was trying to create a certain photo. I was fighting the light. The angle. I put more in the picture. Less. It just didn’t feel right. 

I have learned this lesson countless times, on these days I need to just stop and do something else, focus on something else, or jump in the pool – anything! – but still, even knowing this lesson, I struggle for hours, and then it finally occurs to me, oh, yeah, it’s just not happening today.  And I learn the lesson again.  

This morning I’m looking at the pictures. They aren’t maybe what I wanted, but I guess they are what I needed. Each one telling me to stop. Open a door. Open a window. Listen. Breathe. 

I was listening to the comedian, Marc Maron, the other day. He was saying how he sometimes wakes up, and before his feet hit the floor, he’s thinking, “I’ve gotta do this… and this…”  And then he tells himself, “You’re comin’ in pretty hot…”  I laugh. I have that tendency. And I suppose that’s what I was doing for a long time yesterday, coming into the day’s corners way too hot!

I see the photos and listen. It’s a brand new day. You don’t have to chase it. Just be in it.


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The yellow dress.

I certainly didn’t know any artists. No painters. No writers. But I knew I loved both. Still, there was no outlet really. So I tried everything available. Played in the band. Sports. Wore the red and black — our school colors. We were the cardinals. And I blended in. 

It was in college that I began to see the different colors. Of people. Of opportunities. Still uncertain though of how that applied to me. Paths can be followed, or made. And I suppose that’s not a one time decision, but a daily one. A step by step. Because it takes courage — so much courage — to put one foot out, then the other. To shed the colors placed, colors assumed, and replace them with the colors of your heart. 

We went to the Raoul Dufy exhibition yesterday in Aix en provence. (I’m only now imagining the amount of steps it took to get from Alexandria, Minnesota to Aix en provence.) I stood in front of the painting, The Houses in Trouville, Normandy. Immediately I was drawn to the woman in the yellow dress. In a sea of red, black and blue, there she was, all in yellow. And I smiled. I don’t know if she was afraid when she stood in front of her French mirror. If she thought, today I’m going to be brave, I’m going to be different, I’m going to be me… It must have taken courage. And he saw that, Dufy did. And showed it to the world in the most beautiful way. Confirming what I have always thought, hoped for really, that you don’t have to blend to belong.  

We all want to be a part of something. To belong. But that doesn’t mean we have to hide who we are. I, we, belong in the painting, in the big picture. And how beautiful!  

There will always be a part of me that is a cardinal. And I’m proud of it. But I’m not only that. And I’m not only a yellow dress. I will choose my color, my path, daily, and light it up as best I can — hoping maybe, just maybe, it shines a light for you to see — not to find my path, but your own.


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Under today’s sun.

My Grandma Elsie bought the breakfast cereal variety pack. Those animated boxes in every color! OH how we loved them. To reach into the cupboard and choose! This was something! Each box fit perfectly into our palms – already sweaty with the anticipation of sugar. Moons and stars and loops that changed the color of the milk, and our collective heart rates. Our legs fueled, we began the day running. There was so much to see on the farm, and we couldn’t do it fast enough. We didn’t want to miss a minute under the sun.

My cousins and I couldn’t be more different now. Living separate lives, in separate countries even. A variety pack for sure. What a glorious gift to have been given options. Choices. I suppose when you have it, this freedom, it’s easy to forget about it. But I don’t want to take it for granted. So many do not have this luxury. And it is a luxury!

Gratitude’s sweet sugar fills my heart, and I’m still racing. To write the words and paint the painting! To see the day! To live the life! I was given a gift and I don’t want to waste one minute, miss one minute, under today’s sun.


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From a distance.

From a distance.

When painting, from time to time, you need to take a step back. And just look. It always looks different. Or more clear. Same eyes. Different view. So close to the easel, you can miss it. Only in stepping back, taking in the full picture, can you see what’s really happening on the canvas.  Then you can get close again. Change what’s needed. Sometimes it’s just a stroke or two. Other times you really have to paint over what you had — “give up your darlings” as they say — ideas and images that we make so precious, so darling, that we can’t even see the truth of them. It’s easy to think everything we do is right… the only way… but trust me, I have been proven wrong, stroke by stroke. It’s never easy, but it has always been for the better.

Since moving to France, I have begun to see my home town in a whole new light. I guess I had to step back. From here, each blue seems a little bluer, from lake to sky. Nothing was perfect, far from darling. But things needed to be released just the same. I suppose my “darlings” were thinking that everyone could have been better, should have been better. But I was so close to my own canvas that I couldn’t see them. Maybe they, too, were having their own struggles. Everyone does. Maybe they were doing the best they could do. Maybe we all were. The buoys in the lake, after all, weren’t there just for me. Maybe we were all looking to be saved.

I am reminded of a song sung by Bette Midler:

From a distance
The world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white

From a distance
The ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need

And there are no guns,
No bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band

Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

From a distance
You look like my friend
Even though we are at war

From a distance
I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man

It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

I take a step back today, and I see you. Beautiful.


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Time for an upgrade.

I wasn’t having the best day the other day. I was worried about something that seems too ridiculous to mention now. But I had another task to complete. I was working on the “about me” page for my website upgrade. I had a few photos in mind that I wanted to put with the story. As you might imagine, I have tons of photos on my computer – art, travel, family… I started searching. At first it seemed laborful. So many photos. Then I started really looking at them. I started remembering. Enjoying. Giving thanks. What an adventure! And I felt a little embarrassed that I was squandering my day with worry. I looked at everything that was, and I couldn’t wait to see what could be!!!!  

A lot of you say that what I write is such a good reminder for you. I’m reminding myself along the way. We all have to do the work. And as laborful as it seems sometimes, it’s so worth it. 

You’ll have to wait to see my “about me” page. It’s coming soon. But I encourage you, from time to time, make it a task for yourself — pull out the box of old photos, scroll through your computer, read your journal, listen to your heart. What you have lived through is amazing! Gather that strength and then go out and make some new memories! It’s about you, and it’s about time! Enjoy your day!


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Just ride.

The trees are blanketed in last night’s rain. They don’t seem burdened, but relieved. They received what they needed.

I remember summer mornings on VanDyke road. It was gravel then. After a rainy night, (not too much, just the gentle summer kind) the road was firm and tight. It felt like I could ride my bike so much faster. And everything smelled possible. I had no schedule. No direction. I just woke up. Wiped the seat of my bike, and rode. The tops of my shoes were wet. And it felt like I was a part of it all. No different from the ground I rode on. And somehow I knew, just like the dew covered grass, and the trees and the road, I too would be given everything I need.

I haven’t missed a day of writing in 406 days. Before I began this daily blog, I thought I would have to search for the subject. But all I really needed to do was wake up, and see. Every day the world offers more magic than I can contain on paper or canvas. The birds singing. The taste of butter in the croissants. The dew covered trees.

As I walked around the house this morning to open the shutters, the tops of my shoes dampened. I smiled. It’s harder now to let go of daily worries, but when I wake up and look around, and really see, I mean really see, I have everything I need, just as I always have. No different from the youth and dampened gravel of Van Dyke road. I am a country away, but still home. I smile, and hop on today’s ride.