Jodi Hills

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



When I first arrived in France, and people asked me where I was from (I assume that’s what they were asking) I would say Minnesota… they stared blankly back at me…  Midwest… Nothing… Minneapolis… Oh, race cars… No, that’s Indianapolis, actually I’m originally from Alexandria, Minnesota… The sound of crickets… It’s the birthplace of America (you have to be from Alex to know this), but whatever… 

So it was a grand surprise when cleaning out the closets of my mother-in-law, with my husband, that we found a Minnesota Twins Jersey. Twins! I screamed. No one knew, or even cared. Minnesota Twins – baseball – “We’re gonna win Twins, we’re gonna score!…”  nothing.  Well it’s from Minnesota – like me – it’s just my size – like me, it must be for me.  Meant to be! Imagine that!  A Minnesota Twins Jersey in L’estaque, France.  What are the odds?  Now, I know some will call it fate, kismet, a coincidence, but I think, obviously, there’s a rational explanation for this, and I’ve actually been suspecting it for a long time now —  I’m Cinderella. 

A dream is a wish your heart makes


I saw the world and found my heart. I opened my heart and became a part of the world.

The first time I brought home a piece of paper from school for my mom to sign, it carried me 120 miles away. These words, her name, a pen… released me from this town. Our class was going on a field trip to the Minnesota Zoo in Minneapolis. 120 miles away. I carried my permission slip with such care. I folded it twice, no wrinkles, as deep in my pocket as it would go. I knew the power these words held. These few words on this scrap of paper would take my feet from Washington Elementary onto the big yellow school bus. Up the three giant

steps, past the bus driver, onto one of the green bench seats. Open windows, singing songs about the 50 states and a farmer’s dog named Bingo, we were free. On the bus, on the road, to places unknown. The tires hummed to the magic of these words, and we were off to the zoo. 

I was destined to see the world. And words would always take me there.

You have a ticket.  Don’t be afraid to use it.

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Le pic et la belette (The woodpecker and the weasel)

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Since Covid began, I have made my daily walks inside of our yard. It’s a grand yard, so no complaints. Lots to see, smell and hear. I walk past the pool, the olive tree, under the pines, past the mailbox, the driveway, the fruit trees (all named) Officer Bob the peach tree, Becky the cherry tree, Abigail the apricot tree, Prune rouge – her name was just too perfect as is (the plum tree)…past the American and French flags…I walk over the space where Daniel used to grow – the almond tree – he didn’t make it – nothing to do with Covid… and past the back gardens, the art studio, the green house, the swing set… it’s lovely, full of life, and I go round.

This spring, some holes started popping up, (or I guess down), throughout the yard. No sign of who was making the holes, but nature certainly nurtured my imagination, and immediately I thought of a weasel. And the thought of a weasel led me to thoughts of burrowing, not just in the ground, but up my pant leg, and so I switched to my tightest, skinniest jeans and walked a little faster.

The other morning, making coffee, looking out as the sky turned from pink to blue, my husband and I watched a green woodpecker picking in the grass. Oh, how we love birds. Look at him. So quick. So agile. Wow, he’s really digging. Look at the dirt actually flying up. He’s really going at it. Wait… we looked at each other… wait, I have to go see… that pic is not just “picking”… why, he’s actually digging… I ran out to find a big hole. A big weasel-like hole. A big, no longer scary hole. It was just the pic (woodpecker). It’s just a little pic hole, I smiled.

Is there a moral to the story? Maybe. Probably. You can find your own. My first English professor in college told us to show, not tell. This is what I know for sure. I switched back to loose pants and joyfully walk in a weasel-free zone. Yes, there’s still Covid, a few holes in the ground, but the sun is shining, the grass is greening, my pants are loose and it feels so good to walk, once again, in the truth.

Becky winks a crooked branch to say, “I knew it all along…”



I accidentally fell in love with a French man.

Thank God, for accidents, random acts, chance meetings, fate, worlds colliding, (maybe they are all just the chances we take) (whatever you want to call them)! These are the unknown gifts – the risks we take – the dreams we pursue without knowledge or permission. And that is the gift, I suppose, the uncertainty, because maybe if we knew everything involved, we might not do anything.  If I had known how hard it was to actually learn a new language (French) in mid-life (that’s maybe generous), I’m not sure I would have made all the same decisions – and how tragic – I would have missed out on the love of my life!!!  Spoiler alert – I didn’t…I took the leap of love and here I am in France, loving, creating and doing my French lesson every morning before yoga. There is more comfort in love than in certainty.

OK… but still…why is it so hard?  C’mon!!!!  Some days I think I just can’t learn this language — ç’est impossible! 

And then those pesky women of inspiration pop up their heads — 
At age 40, Julia Child became a TV icon on the show The French Chef.  Grandma Moses started painting at age 76. Laura Ingalls Wilder started writing at age 64. And then there’s Iris — Iris Apfel — signed to one of the world’s most prominent modeling agencies, IMG, at age 97.  97!!!!  Iris!  And so I don my imaginary stacks of W.W.I.D. (What would Iris do?) bracelets and sit before my leçon de français, and I try…and I learn…because that’s what strong women do!  We invent, reinvent, we dare, we grow — not confined by our gender, our numbers, or ceilings.  We take our accidents and chances and we make them into something beautiful!  Life is beautiful, at every age! Tout est possible! 

Bonjour, Iris!



The first time I took my mother to New York, we both got to be models.

Go ahead and underestimate the amount of confidence I carried with me growing up in Alexandria, Minnesota.  Now underestimate a little more, and you might reach my mother.  Oh, we survived, and even had a little fun. We looked at catalogs (nothing was online then) and dreamed, even walked the malls each weekend, and dreamed a little more.  We tried on outfits and gained a little more confidence. We went to Minneapolis and grabbed on to a little more.  Then Chicago – look at us in Chicago!  Our strides got a little longer, our backs a little straighter, and sometimes we even dared to say, “Hey, we look pretty good.”  Which may sound vain – but no – that was pure joy! 

Maybe you need to know a little backstory.  My mom, one of nine farm kids, wasn’t nurtured in fashion.  Practical, stained, sturdy, this was the norm.  There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s very functional.  But function is not often what dreams are made of. And so this little girl dreamed. Alone. Her mother, forever aproned and cooking – nine children – still found time to sew. And my mom, forever washing dishes – eight siblings – became a fashion designer, in her heart.

Now, dreams really don’t amount to much without confidence.  And that’s another hurdle.  How my mother found it, was nothing short of fantastical, but she did. Shedding rumors and divorce and illness, she still managed to dress herself, every day, in something that made them think, “She’s from Alex?”

And she was.  We were.  And off we flew New York.  I had just finished the book, “Slap on a little lipstick, you’ll be fine” — again, thanks to my mother — and Guideposts magazine was going to do a feature story on it. My mom accompanied me. They picked us up in a limo, drove us to the meat packing industry, to a giant loft of an acclaimed photographer. They plucked my eyebrows and did my makeup, slid red leather over black silk and I was delighted, transformed, giddy!  My mom watched from the corner as they took photo after photo, smiling and smiling more – no direction needed!  And then the photographer said, why don’t we take a few with your mother!  Yes, yes!  I said.  Oh, I don’t… my mother hesitated. (It takes a while to build a confident soul.)  You have to!  You must!  I want you to!  And she came – into the shot.  And we hugged and smiled and captured it forever!  Look, Grandma!  We’re models! 

They put the pictures in the magazine – even my grandma!

This week, the young poet, Amanda Gorman, asked us to acknowledge the shoulders we’ve stood on, and what we stand for now.  These are the women that have held me up.  

My grandma’s photo sits next to my sewing machine.  I once drew a picture of her hands, and wrote, “If she did worry, it never showed in her hands.”  Perhaps that was the strength that allowed my mother to dream.  Shoulders.

I painted a picture of a dress designer’s mannequin for my mom, and wrote, “Not all of her dreams came true, but she was never sorry she had them.”  Shoulders.

These women gave me the strength to dream, to fall in love, to live. They are the reason I believe.  These beauties of strength, survival, endurance, and joy — no one has ever worn it better!  
Look, Grandma!  Look, Mom!  You’re models!!!!!


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!  


Paying attention.

I remember Oprah once told us that we had to pay attention to the signs, the quiet ones, because there wasn’t always going to be the Tabernacle choir singing them out.  Some will come in a whisper. Today’s came, not in a choir, but on the radio. Twice. I put the coffee on the stove and turned on the kitchen radio. Tony Bennett was singing The Good Life – “Oh, the good life, full of fun seems to be the ideal…” I smiled and thought immediately of my mom dancing in the upstairs art gallery in Wayzata, Minnesota.  The memory wafted and I heated the croissants.  Four songs later, mid-croissant, the radio began to play “La Belle Vie,” (The Good Life in French).  Ok, that wasn’t the Tabernacle choir, but I couldn’t ignore the signs.  

Many years ago, Anne Davidson listened to her own internal Opray voices and opened The Good Life art gallery.  Nestled on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, The Good Life was true to its name, being not just a place, but an experience. It was home to painters and sculptors, jewelry makers and collectors, and the famous gallery opening celebrations. 
When Anne gave a party, introducing your newest work, it was really something.  Being there, I always felt I wasn’t just at the party, I was in it.  I think everyone there felt that – I sure hope they did – what a feeling!  Curated by best friend Ken down to the last detail – which wine, which chocolate, which color red on the wall – it was always spectacular. Inspiration filled the room. It was like that feeling great cities give you – Paris, New York – in it, them, you just want to do better – be better.  And we were.  Together we were better. 
We danced, young and old. In front of art, new and old. And we sold, not just our creations, but our visions. What it could be – what we could be. 
I saw 70+ Corrine hoist 40lb framed paintings off the wall, down the staircase and load into cars. Deb ran the register and people lined up to be a part of this family – this joyful land of misfit toys that would change, maybe not the world, but our worlds. People came from barns and mansions and we were all the same, all trying, and often succeeding, even just for hours at a time, to live this good life.  
You don’t know what will bind you, find you, carry you… lift you forever, unless you stay open. I want to be in this party, in this life. I am not going to visit today, but live it.  Let’s live it – this one and everyone. It’s a good life! C’est une belle vie!  

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The first time we drove along La Corniche, the radio was playing.  I didn’t understand the language.  The more the announcer talked, the more the view disappeared.  It’s hard to see when you’re drowning.  Each word was an anchor. It was so hard to breathe.  What was I thinking?  This couldn’t possibly be for me.  This view.  This bienvenue.  No, not for me. I couldn’t see the blue, the turquoise… I was going under. Each word I didn’t understand said you don’t belong here. It’s funny when we don’t understand something how quickly we can translate. Create our own narrative.

“Use the back door,” she said.  She knew I didn’t belong to “the club” – The Alexandria Golf Club.  That was obvious. Wasn’t it obvious?  I would never belong. “Breathe,” I told myself.  And walked around.

We drove along the sea. “Use the back door.” I hadn’t thought of that in years. And now that’s all I could hear. Each French word was pushing me down the back stairs, and the water kept rising.  

That weekend at The Alexandria Golf Club, I was there to sell my not yet refined art work.  It was simple, inexpensive, full of my heart and hands. I entered through the back door, terrified. What was I thinking? It was me. 

The world can surprise you. I sold everything. People smiled, and hugged and clutched their pearls, and “oh, that is so me,” they said.  “So me.”  So me.  “Entering through the back door me.” 

It took me years to claim my hometown. Maybe I should say, claim myself in my hometown. And I expected to enter France through the front door?  

Some lessons we have to learn again and again, and I would learn this one…again. 

I grew up across the gravel road from Lake Agnes in Alexandria.  I painted Lake Agnes in France. I painted the blue, each stroke stepping through the front door.  This was my hometown.  It was not theirs.  It was ours.

I claimed it.  My heart. The most terrifying thing, can sometimes be the most beautiful. 

We’ve driven along the sea more times than I can count.  I begin to see it more each time.  The colors flowing in my heart now, not over my head.  The blue. The turquoise. I see it.  It is not theirs. It is ours. And it is beautiful.

We came home to Aix, and I grabbed my brushes, my blues, and wrote a love letter to Marseille. 
Us.  (Did you know that includes you?  As terrifying as that may seem, it is twice as beautiful!  And it is ours.)