Jodi Hills

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

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Our name.

People used to say it wrong all the time. Hvezda. Pronouncing the “H”, or a soft v…I didn’t like it. Maybe I even shied away from it. I hope not, but I think it’s true. 

Sharing the new painting of my grandfather a few days ago, I was reminded of the lyrics by the Avett brothers — “Always remember there was nothing worth sharing

Like the love that let us share our name”. 

After all these years, to know that people can still hear the sound of my grandfather’s voice. That they can still smell the sweet smoke of his pipe. This is more than amazing to me, this is a gathering under the Hvezda name. This, for me — being a country away and the name twice removed — is a comfort, as warm, as tangible, as the quilt that my grandmother made.

All these feelings needed a breath of fresh air yesterday, so I took them out for a walk. It’s been awhile since I’ve gone on the gravel path, by the small mountain near our house. With Covid restrictions, I got out of the habit, and stayed closer to our property. The familiar that made it’s way from my feet to my heart, was palpable. The steps had never left me. Even the river seemed to know my name. Pronouncing, flowing it correctly, as I walked by on the path. 

Love carried, and shared, never dies.

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Flinging towards faith.

I’m not proud to admit that there were several years in my youth that I thought it was the leaning Tower of Pizza.

I was driving on this leg of the trip when we arrived in Pisa, Italy. I thought (and still do) that the French drive crazy, but it was raised to a new level in Italy. The last round-a-bout before the city was packed, but not packed at a standstill, packed at a blazing speed. Dominique told me you just have to go – just fly through it. But I’m from Minnesota – we wave people in. There would be no waving. No thinking. Just doing. I held my breath and double dutched my way into the flow and was flung out through the first exit. Sometimes you just have to trust. 

Some of the most frequent questions I have been asked through the years — How did you know you could become an artist? How did you know you could make it? Weren’t you scared? The truth is, the scariest part was thinking about it. Once I started doing it – I was just doing it. There was no time to be afraid. There was work to be done. And I loved doing it! It was, is, my heart’s truth, and I trust in it.

It has continued to be the case for most things in my life — the worrying is always worse than the doing. Oh, I know, because I can get myself caught up in the worrying, especially in the wee hours. But the doing has always saved me. The living in the light of day. The flinging myself into the mix, the moment, and trusting that I have been given everything I need. 

Through the round-a-bout, onto the main street of the city, I could see it. The most beautiful tower. It was real. Through all of the chaos, it stood strong, a little crooked, but strong. I’d like to think I, we, can do the same.  

I watch the sun come up, and fling myself toward the faith.

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It is more fragile, for sure, but oh the feeling, as you glide the sable brush across the paper. The paint seems to love the ride. So willing to cling to the brush in your hand and then release itself ever so gently onto the paper. 

I suppose any woodworker will have the same story of a favorite tool. A farmer. A baker. A mechanic. A musician. Each finding the best way to gather and release the vulnerability, the creativity of the attempt. In any creation, there needs to be this combination. And never is that more clear, than with the heart — perhaps our finest, yet most fragile tool. 

Since I was five years old, I put crayon to paper. I would present the crude, but purely honest creations to my mother, and she would clutch her imaginary pearls. One movement of her hand to heart. One movement of my hand to paper. Nothing was easier than this love. So I showed her. Again and again. 

I painted with my new sable brush yesterday. I bought in Minneapolis. I painted with my trusting heart. My mother gave me that so many years ago!

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On frozen ponds.

There were three of us on winter break. We decided to go skating together. My cousin Kalee was very good. My cousin Tina had never tried it. I was somewhere in between. We went to the nearest frozen lake (there were many to choose from). Kalee glided with ease and grace across the ice like Snoopy in a Charles Schulz special. I Peppermint Pattied my way along, and Tina did her best Charlie Brown, trying to get her backside off the frozen pond.

We went back to my grandma’s house. Kalee was completely dry. Tina and I changed back into warmer clothes. How was it? my grandma asked. Great, said Kalee. It was ok, I said. Tina burst into tears. “We’re all having different experiences,” my grandma said. She smiled – offered to make us rootbeer floats. We declined. She was the only one that really liked them. But we loved her. And with all of our different and peculiar ways, she loved us – all!

I read it in a book this week – “We are all having different experiences.” And though I’ve heard it before, oh how it rings true. For families. For friends. For the planet. I used to think if people weren’t having the same feelings, then someone was wrong. Was it them? Was it me? It takes a long time to learn that many things can be true. You just have to find your own truth. The version you can stand on, upright, live with.

We, as humans, are skating and falling and getting up again. All at different times. In our own different ways. And why not, there are “so many lakes to choose from.” If you can be gracious when you glide, when you fall, and all the places in between, then there will always be love. Love for us all.

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The playground

I suppose I’ve always been a dreamer. But I’m not sure it would be possible to live, (not just survive, I mean really live) any other way.

On the playground at Washington Elementary, it was something of a right of passage to display your bruises – your badges of courage. We’d line up under the monkey bars, and point out our battles survived. “This is when my foot got caught in the jump rope and I landed on my knees.” “Oh, yeah, but look, here’s when we were playing tug of war and the rope got caught under my arm.” “Look at my eye – the football hit me right in the face – the FACE!”  Never broken, but bruised daily. Because we were participating – joyfully!

I’d like to think the same of my heart. I continue to send it off to battle. It knows, from past experience — this daily beating on life’s playground — that it is going to be bruised. Love will do that. Every time. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Maybe my biggest dream is that we could all do this — love this big! Risk it all, believing  in the beautiful resilience of the heart. 

My heart will not be broken – it is not a block of ice. It is a juicy pear, bruised for sure, but forever delicious! So I run to the playground again and again, proud of what I’ve been through, what you’ve been through! We’re here. Today. Let’s play!

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Sometimes the answer to last night’s prayer is just a smile.

I have a morning routine. My hands know it as well as my head. Illuminate the kitchen light. Turn the water on the tap to hot. Add it to the Italian coffee pot, then the coffee above. Twist on the top. Light the gas stove. Put on the coffee. Turn on the radio. Empty the dishwasher. Set the table. Make the toasts or croissants. Open the shutters (the noise wakes up Dominique and signals him to come.) 

But wait. This morning, there was Ella. Ella Fitzgerald. Singing Mack the Knife on the radio. I stopped, somewhere in between the table and the stove. And listened. It must have been a live recording. She started the second verse by singing, “I don’t know the words to this verse…” I laughed into the biggest smile. My routine was so joyfully broken. It may be the best version of the song I’ve ever heard. It was so imperfect, but those notes fit exactly into the cracks of my heart.

We think we know the answers. And then we’re given what we need. I string together these words, and hope the melody fills you. I share my smile. Today, maybe you can do the same.

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In from the cold.

Maybe it was fun, for a few minutes. Or maybe it was out of pure necessity – I mean, what was the alternative? If we didn’t go out in the wintertime, we’d lose nearly half the year. So we did it. We bundled. From head to toe. Sweaters and snowsuits. Hats. Mittens. Hoods wrapped in scarves. At this point, not being able to bend over, our mothers would force our twice socked feet into our older siblings’ boots, and open the door.

The cold air felt like a slap to the only exposed area around our eyes. We blinked as our eyelashes doubled with frost. We winter-waddled through the yard as long as we could. Hoping to stay out at least as long as it took to bundle. Rolls of snowmen heads were started, then abandoned, and soon we ran (like penguins) to the nearest door. I guess for me, this is what it was all about – that full body sigh of coming in from the cold. Into the warmth of my mother’s arms. Warm kisses on red cheeks.Brought back to this world, mitten by mitten. Boot by boot. Sock by sock. I was home.

And I would do it again. And again. I suppose that’s what love is. Coming in from the cold.

What a thrill. What a blessing! To know this. To carry this warmth in my heart. As harsh as this world can be at times, I would, I will, brave the elements of whatever the day may bring, knowing, certain, my heart has a place to come in from the cold.

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I didn’t expect to learn it at the airport.

We were so tired. On the last leg of our trip home. To be honest, I don’t remember which airport it was. Maybe Minneapolis? Or New York? Inside, they all start to look the same. We wanted nothing more than to just sit down. All the chairs at our gate were filled with other passengers, also not expecting to learn anything. On the way to the restrooms, we saw a meditation room. Yes!  Why not?!  With no one else inside, I felt it was ok to break the rules posted on the wall, and I called my mom on my cell phone. I was mid conversation on speaker phone when she walked in. She sat cross legged on the floor. I smiled to make my apologies and wrapped up the conversation as quickly as possible. “I’m so sorry,” I said to her. She was so calm. “No need to be sorry,” she said. There was something to this, I thought. “It’s not about having your surroundings be calm,” she explained, “It’s about finding your calm within your surroundings.”  Wow. 

I like to do yoga each morning. We have a large house and a big yard, but I have found my tiny spot in between our two desks in our office. I like it. Here, looking out the windows onto the yard, I find my balance with the trees. Once in a while, Dominique will come in. His chair squeaks. Sometimes an ad will pop up on his computer at twice the volume. Papers will shuffle. And I’m not proud to say, it used to throw me. Almost annoy me. So ridiculous, I know, but true. Not anymore. I will never forget this lovely woman, in that forgettable airport. Calm isn’t given. It’s created within. I smile. So happy to see Dominique’s feet as I twist out my lower back. 

It’s easy to be happy when everything is going well. Easy to be kind when life is at its best. To be calm in the quiet. But what do we do when it isn’t that way? Who are we when life gets hard? This is the real test, I suppose. I want to be better, in all times. I think maybe we all could do a little better in this daily chaos. So today, let’s be gentle with our past. Gentle with our present. Gentle with each other.

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To find out who I am.

It’s not like I’m afraid of forgetting my own initials. But when I saw the little letters, I knew I had to have them. J. H. O. Jodi Hills Orsolini. My fingers rummaged through the sea of white. I was so excited as I pulled out the letters. One by one. I suppose, for a brief moment, in a store so far from home, it was affirmation, that I did exist.

I’m curious by nature. I want to learn new things. See new things. I love to read. To travel. Meet new people. And I’ve come to understand, with each experience, perhaps I learn more about myself than anything at all. And sometimes it’s hard. We’re put in constant situations where we think we’re learning more about other people. How to handle their challenges or victories. And it’s easy to get lost in that. But sometimes I think we have to also look at the situation and ask, “What does this say about me?” My reactions. Am I being patient? Am I being kind? Am I actually learning?

We are offered daily situations to grow. Today is Sunday. In France, that means almost everything is closed. I’d like to get varnish for the frame I am making. It won’t happen today. Of course my initial reaction is, “Stupid France…” Time to learn again. I dig into the bin of my heart and pull out the letters. J – be patient Jodi. H – be happy for this quiet moment. O – the stores may be closed, but your heart can be open.

I breathe. I smile. Give thanks to this beautiful country, and for the chance, once again, to find out who I am.

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My season begins.

The nearest girls’ bathroom to the Central Junior High gym was up the bleachers, through the doors, and down the hall. It may be the fastest I have ever run. 

Nothing prepares you for the first basketball practice of the season. Or perhaps I should say, I hadn’t prepared. The windowless, airless box that contained our hoop dreams, soon brought us to exhaustion. We ran “crushers” on the wooden floor. Up and down, touching each painted line. Sweat dripping pink down my t-shirt, head spinning, stomach churning, I willed my rubber legs to make one more run up the bleachers to greet the porcelain face first. Layed on the tiled floor and convinced myself to go back to the gym. To keep running. Because, oh, how I wanted to play!

It always got easier.Yesterday, I put on my almost golden gloves. The color is slowly disappearing, but they fit my hands perfectly. I dig through the wood pile in hopes of finding enough similar wood to make a frame. I measure. Look for the flaws I will have to work around. And begin sanding. And sanding. Covered in dust and desperation, I stop to search the internet for frames. Scrolling through sites, French and English. Then I return to the garage and sand some more. I fill the old nail holes with putty. While drying, I think, I could just order something, so I scroll again. The next day I return to the waiting wood. And sand some more. I make the cuts. Look for the wood glue. We have none. I scroll some more. It would be so easy to give up. I buy the glue and my husband and I try to figure out once again how to put on the squaring straps. I nail on the back brace. Find the drill. The bit. The screws. The bit breaks after three corners. I find another bit. Another screw. And it is strong.

Today I’ll have to start sanding again. But I feel stronger. More confident. It always gets easier. This is not to say my legs won’t turn to rubber again today, but I will catch my breath, and keep running. My season begins again. Right here. Right now. Oh, how I want to play!