Jodi Hills

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


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Bambooed.

I didn’t even notice it when I took the picture – how the bamboo tree photobombed my most recent painting.

I don’t know that I was aware of the speed, strength and resilience of bamboo before moving to France. We have a tiny forest of them in our backyard. It’s not like you can actually see them growing…but almost. For the most part, we have kept them contained to a single area, but this one somehow snuck much closer to the house.

I was never really one to paint landscapes before. I had only lived in the city. But I am surrounded by nature now. I walk through it daily. It seems I permanently have a rock in my shoe, every shoe, and a call to wander. It’s in my heart now. And as with all of my paintings, they have to travel through there first. I paint the landscapes. I live in this new palette. And I can see it. The growth.

Maybe I didn’t notice it while it was happening, but I have bambooed my way into this new palette — this new life. I suppose that’s the way it is with all growth — strong, resilient, and oh, so surprising!

Green and smiling, I begin the day. New.


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Word by word.

She loved to read by the window, sitting on the deacon’s bench. The sun lit the words, almost in reverence, just, I thought as it should be. 

It was Mrs. Bergstrom who taught me how to read, but it was my mother who taught me how to love it. Reading and rereading each library book. Words that calmed me when I was scared. Words that lifted me when low. Words that paid for the tickets when money was scarce. Filled the car with gas. Lifted the plane. Took us on adventures. Gave us not just happy endings, but happy beginnings. Told us that all things were possible. I know I was just a child, but when I saw my mother with a book in her hand, I knew that I was saved. We all could be.

Mrs. Bergrstrom wrote on the blackboard the word career. She went around the room asking what does your father do? What does your mother do? Maybe it wasn’t surprising, we were only six, but most of the kids didn’t know. Some said they went to a building. Did a job. Left in the morningtime. Set the table. When she pointed to me – asking what my mother did – I knew for certain, and said it clearly – “Well, she’s saving the world.” Some snickered, but I just smiled, because for me, it was true. Word by word.

I began a new book yesterday. These Precious Days by Ann Patchett. I sat at my desk, the sun shining through the window, illuminating each magnificent word, warming my shoulders. I could have vacuumed, or dusted. Washed clothes. But I was doing something more important. I felt the power. From sky to window to shoulders to page to heart. It was all love. And she was with me. All things were possible. Word by word, we were saving the world.


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The beginning of somewhere.

We pulled the car off of the freeway to the only gas station in sight — the only building in sight. We were in the southern part of the US. Some might call it the middle of nowhere. But I don’t really like that phrase – everywhere is somewhere to someone, and we in fact were there – so I call it the beginning of somewhere. I would say we were lost. Dominique would say that we just weren’t sure how to get where we were going…. In any case, we paid the woman behind the counter for the gas and some random snacks, and asked her directions to our destination. She had never heard of it. That was fine. What’s the name of this freeway right here? Or the number? She said she didn’t know. Perhaps she didn’t hear, I thought, so I repeated, this freeway right here — I pointed. “I don’t know,” she said, “I didn’t drive here.” Baffled by the response, we walked back to the car in silence. There were so many questions. First of which – how did she get there? Where did she live? There were no houses in site. And most importantly, do you really need to drive on a road to know its name — a road that you could reach out and touch if you took two steps?

And I suppose that’s the problem, isn’t it? This lack of interest. Empathy. Knowledge. Have our worlds gotten so small? Our concerns even smaller? It was Maya Angelou who said the most important thing was curiousity. It was the key to everything. Without it, she thought, nothing else was really possible, including love, friendship, education, invention…life itself.

Our favorite travel memories always include the stumbling upon. The surprise of what isn’t on the map, or the brochure. I wish this for everyone. And you don’t have to travel the world – though I highly recommend it if you have the means — but please, please, look beyond your front door. Take the road less traveled, or the road worn to tracks, it doesn’t matter, just take a road. Go somewhere. Learn something. Meet people.

We were taught in school that it was important to “walk in someone else’s shoes.” Maybe that’s frightening to some, so I would say, start by walking in your own shoes. Live your life. Take some chances. Make some discoveries. And then make the exchange — of “shoes” — you will have something to share, and be open to receive. If you want the thrill of “stumbling upon,” you have to be willing to stumble.

We drove down the unknown freeway. Smiling. Packed with a new memory. A new story. Ready for our next adventure.


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Recent. Frequent. Ever.

Recent and frequent tears have not made my heart, nor mind, any less wide-eyed. I jerked my head around to see the horses. The horses clopping behind me on the path. Gathering speed. Louder. The horses I knew would be there. I stopped. Looked. The clip-clop continued in my ear buds. The path behind me was empty.

I was listening to the Paris Review. They were playing a short story about a man visiting a town. All were on horseback. The reality of their podcasts is unprecedented. I don’t know how they produce it, but the sounds they create are alive. Separate from the narrator, the horses approached. The sound got nearer. So real. So magical. I could feel the breath of them behind me.

Further down the path, when the horses returned, the character’s departure, the clip-clip continued. This time, it wasn’t so startling, but more comforting. I liked thinking of them by me. Behind me. Walking with me. And I was no longer afraid, but comforted. I continued down the path, deep inside the magic.

I passed by my mother’s picture as I first went out the door for this particular walk. I had just been working on my computer, and I had this thought — What happened to her email? Where did they go now? The reminders from Sundance catalog — this turquoise coat that she would love. What happened to all the emails we had exchanged. Promises. Love. Were they still hovering? If I sent one now – to her address – her address that carried my birthday numbers — where would it go? Could she see it?

I stepped onto the path and hit play. Trying to drown out the typing in my head, when the horses startled me. They were so alive. The presentation so real. My heart was so willing to believe in them that fear turned into comfort.

I’m typing the words now. My cheeks still rosy, more from magic than from the cool winter air. Each word is filled with love. Filled with chance. Filled with a comforting joy that walks beside me. Magic that I don’t need to understand, that I just believe. Unconditionally. My mother is with me. Recent. Frequent. Ever.

Wide-eyed. I hit send.


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I am here.

In the fifth grade team room of Miss Green, Mr. Andert, and Mrs. Pohlman, we were allowed to begin. And I mean begin anything. Without plans. Without direction. Without fear. 

The janitor’s closet was directly across from our classroom. During a rainy day recess, Wendy Shoeneck, Lori Patri, Barb Duray and I used it as our office. Amid the smell of disinfectant and the wet mop in the bucket, we came up with the idea of putting on a play for our classmates. We had no reason to believe we would be good at it. We had no reason to believe we wouldn’t be… so we continued. We had no script. No decisions were made other than to just do it. 

We flung the door open and told Miss Green of our plans. I don’t remember asking, maybe we did, I hope we did, nonetheless, she said sure, and when the class convened after recess, we began. We drifted between themes of don’t use drugs, be nice to everyone, some school bus songs…I remember jumping and waving, and soon the whole class was singing. It maybe lasted 5 minutes. But you don’t need a long time to get a real taste of freedom, a real taste of joy.  

We were rangled back to our desks and the day continued with books and structure. But the afternoon smiles never left our faces.  

I had been shy for my first four grades. Some said painfully — I had never seen it as pain. When they mentioned it on my report cards, my mother always told them, “When she has something to say, she’ll say it.”  My mother never lied to me, so I believed her, and lived in my quiet world pain free. She was right, and it happened for me in fifth grade. Maybe it was due to the open team room. Maybe it was because of the open teachers. The safety of friends. Or maybe it was just my time. But I give thanks for it all. I never turned back after that. 

I have no real plan for the day. I have no reason to believe it won’t be good. I fling open the door — here I am — powered by the freedom to live my joy.


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For the green.

I grew up thinking they were all green. My grandparents had apple trees. So many apples. Bushels and baskets filled. We would pick and climb. Using the stick with the jagged bag, getting the highest ones. The ground splattered with those that just couldn’t hang on anymore. The cows filled. Our bellies as well.  

We never had to buy apples. Every green summer visit to the farm, we went home with brown paper bags filled. Marked by the sweetest to the most sour. My mom loved the sour ones. I suppose one would say tart, but my youthful palette could only think of sour. I always reached for the sweet.

You can imagine my surprise when I went through the school lunch line for the first time. Plastic tray in my chubby hands. I sidestepped single-file with all of my classmates. The lunch lady put the plate filled with something resembling meat and potatoes on my tray. Sidestep. A small carton of milk. Sidestep again. She placed it on my tray — a red apple. Red? Why was it red? Apples were green. Weren’t they green? I looked around to view what I imagined would have been a collective shock, but no one else was surprised. 

What I love about my youthful heart, it didn’t feel bad. It stayed quiet, but happy. I smiled, filled with my special knowledge.

It was Autumn. I helped my grandma pick the remaining apples from the tree. Not many. Just a few held on to summer. The basket wasn’t heavy, but we carried it together. Each grasping a wire handle. Stride for stride. I knew this was something special. For the green. For the grandma.  

“They come in red too, you know,” I said as we walked to the house. “Yes,” she smiled. “I like that we have green,” I said. She nodded, “Me too.” We moved through the grass as one. It was, we were, something special. I keep holding on.


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A head start.

My favorite breakfast is toast with lavender honey. And not just any toast — toast from my homemade bread. I don’t think it’s bragging to say I like my bread best. I think it’s lucky. How great is it that I have the power to make my favorite bread?!  If I want it – I can make it. For me, that’s beyond just “Oh, I like the taste of that…”  It means that I can start the day with something I love. I can begin the day and know that even if nothing else spectacular happens the rest of the day — it started out really well.

We all need to do this for ourselves, every day — give ourselves a head start — a fighting chance as we make our way. So much is out of our control. But we can do the little things. Like making bread. Or simply being kind – to each other — to ourselves.  

I don’t know what the day will bring. None of us do. But I do know this, mine has started out sweet. And I am on my way.


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All suitcases roll beautifully when empty.


It really came down to the color. They all seemed to roll beautifully — these new suitcases in the store. I tested many. Each one. Each brand. All glided across the polished floor. I picked one, sure that my next trip would be so much easier.

I removed the tags. Filled it. Full. Struggled over the rug. Through the door. Down the stairs. Hallway. Trunk. Airport. It didn’t seem all that easy. I labored with the weight. 

What seems so incredibly obvious, has taken me decades to learn. And maybe I should say understand, because to be honest, I’m still learning it. I still struggle with, “But I need it…I can’t leave it behind…”  Even more importantly, I need to learn it – for my head, my heart. How glorious it would be to roll around this world, unburdened by the weight of it all. All those conversations playing over and over in my head. The weight of worry and what ifs. The weight of well, they should have, and why can’t they…  and why didn’t I…  I’m learning to lighten the load. I don’t want to be crushed by this passage of time. Day by day. I want to let go, and enjoy the journey. 

It’s all kind of funny, when you think about it — this baggage. We have the power to choose. It can’t follow us on its own. It has to be dragged. I smile at this morning’s sun…empty handed.


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Carry it with you.

The first time Dominique came to Minneapolis, it was summer. Welcome breezes waved through our clothes as 90 degrees reflected off the Mississippi River.  Exposed arms and hands brushed and held. We dined al fresco. And stole kisses in the never ending light. We moved easily from house to car to dry sidewalks and green grass. The tumble of August, said, “Go ahead, “fall in love!”  And we did!

The second time he came to Minneapolis it was 40 below zero. Our breath was the only thing dancing in the air, inside the car…and this is when I knew he really, really, really loved me.  

Helen Keller was quoted, “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” I believe it. And so it is with my Minneapolis. My mother. My husband. My friends. Every beautiful moment, love’s eternal warm breezes, flowing within my heart — deeply. I keep tumbling.


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Off to a different deck

My mom was dizzy for most of her life. An imbalance in her inner ear. We had only been on the cruise ship for a short time when it began — a tumbling in my brain that went directly to my stomach. An inner violence I had never felt before. I spent the first day hugging porcelain.  My mom seemed fine. I couldn’t believe it. How was she doing it? “Oh, I always feel like this,” she said, shrugging it off. And she went in search of the captain, humming the theme song to The Love Boat. 

I got a couple of shots from the ship’s doctor, easing the symptoms and allowing me to navigate while on the ship. The only problem was, it seemed to be overcompensating, and walking on land was a struggle. So this is what they meant by a drunken sailor?  It lasted even after returning home. The long hallway in my apartment building proved very challenging, and for nearly a week, I serpentined my way from the garage to my door.  Once again, I marveled at the silent strength of my mother, and kept walking.

Yesterday, I went out for my normal afternoon walk.  A quarter of the way through, my left earbud stopped working. It didn’t make sense to turn back, so I continued on. But it felt so strange. I couldn’t seem to adjust. I felt partial. Incomplete. Off balance. I kept walking. In search of my other voice. I only mention it because it occurred to me, this is what it’s like to lose someone you love. The world hasn’t changed, but your way of navigating through it is completely different. But you keep walking. The sun still shines. The trees are lovely. The ground is solid. The birds are humming. I see my mother skipping off to a different deck.

I was given the strength long ago. Now is the time to use it.