Jodi Hills

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

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The wayward pony.

I suppose everything is about context. It’s not like I’d normally be afraid of a pony. (I’ve even painted them.) But yesterday, when I looked up from the path to turn the corner and almost ran into one, I must say it was alarming. And he wasn’t alone. There was a donkey. A llama. Many sheep. Rams. Other ponies. I don’t know who was in charge of this gang by the river. There were no other humans in sight. Neither the sheep, nor the donkey seemed to care that I was there, but what I can only assume as the lead pony, looked at me like I was the suspicious one.

After taking pictures, I kept walking. The whole path seemed different. I felt disoriented. This path, that I could normally navigate in my sleep, suddenly felt completely strange. Had that always been there? What about this? Did I miss my turn?

I started to take inventory. I knew this rock. This tiny bridge. To walk up the slope on the left side. The smell of these trees. The purple flowers growing out of the concrete fence. I knew this path.

Life can throw you the strangest curves. And you can’t prepare for everything. And sometimes each step can become unfamiliar. When it happens, it may sound silly, but I always take my own inventory. Am I safe? Yes. Am I loved? Yes. Do I have to be afraid? No. I step aside from the wayward pony, smile, and keep walking.

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Sur la table.

It’s instinct now. I suppose I’ve done it for years, but for some reason I noticed it this morning. When making something on the stove, like this morning’s coffee, I have to tilt my head down and to the left. It’s no surprise that I’m taller than the last French generation, and the hood over the stove is a good reminder.

But I don’t really think about it. My head just seems to know, and makes the adjustment. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but what a marvelous creation — this brain!

This brain that worked for years and years processing one language. A brain that knew the signals and prompts. That navigated the grids and grins of one culture, now being asked to learn it all again, (and bend over a little if you don’t mind.) Even in the face of tears, and fears, and the I don’t want tos and the I cants, somehow it keeps going. Marvelous! And maybe it’s the heart that tells it so. Who can be sure who’s leading. That heart that got more than knocked by a kitchen corner and still keeps beating. So pained by love, still knowing there is nothing better. The heart that only smells the coffee brewing and looks forward to the day.

I mention it, not as a reminder of the struggle, but a reminder to give thanks. To take a moment and tell this brain, this heart — thanks for getting me here. For making the adjustments when life knocks us around.

I sit at the morning table. My cup is full.

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I had to go back and reread it — the lesson I had “learned.” The lesson I re-learned and wrote down on paper. The lesson on paper that I typed onto the computer. The lesson I shared with you, more than once. 

“Each rock seemed to give birth to another. I was so tired. But Grandpa didn’t seem to be. He just kept picking those rocks, one after the other. He seemed to get stronger. There was precision in each movement. I watched carefully. It was like an oil pump that didn’t have a beginning or an end to its motion, but just kept going. I had been throwing the rocks with anger, but he moved them with purpose…and that was the difference.“

I was pulling weeds yesterday in our backyard. Powerful weeds that I struggle with every year. At first I just pulled them. Strong, I thought, but nothing I can’t handle. Then slowly I started to give them the weight of my anger. Stupid weeds. The weight of my bent back. You’re killing me! The weight of forever, like I was never going to win this battle. The weight of I’m going to have to do this every year again and again, and…. OH MY! I could barely lift them at this point. I started to cry. Oh, good! I thought. Now I’m watering them!

It all sounds so ridiculous after a good night’s sleep. I read the words, again, and I know, again, there is no need to give more weight to the rocks in our life.

I smile and tag myself with the familiar words — “Something will grow from all of this, and it will be me.” Thank you, Grandpa.


Celebrating jam!

I made a small batch of raspberry jam last night. I’m surprised I even slept, with the excitement of having it for breakfast. 

When the birds told me to open up the shutters, I donned my slippers and made the bed, quick as a wink. I clipped down the stairs and saw it — as red as Christmas morning. I brewed the coffee and toasted the bread (bread that I had also made). 

“Look at that color!” I exclaimed to Dominique. The perfume of the raspberries lingered through each bite. I held up the small jar in wonder. Mid-song of my praises, I began to laugh. I was transported to my grandparents’ table. The floor above the countless jars my grandma had filled. With nine children, I can guarantee that there was never a time my grandma sat at the table, admiring her jam, saying, “Look, Rueben!  Look at that color!”  I’m still laughing.

It’s glorious to make things. I want to live in a world of makers. And we should take pleasure in it. Joy even! But before we get too full of ourselves, thanks must be given to those who made the paths. Those who didn’t have the luxury of the morning stroll, but those who labored so that we could!  

My grandmother’s kitchen was always mid-boil, mid-brew. 9 children. 27 grandchildren. She didn’t have time to teach us recipes. She didn’t even have time to follow recipes. She just added, guessed, tested. So how is it that I remember the soothing rumble of her aproned belly, as I rode in the laughter of her lap. She still had the time. Took the time. For me. Perhaps the greatest gift of all!  

So, I say go ahead and celebrate the morning jam! The morning coffee! The morning laughter! What better way to give thanks?!!!

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Be the giggle.

As someone who grew up in the ice and snow of a Minnesota winter, I consider myself a bit of an expert, but through the years I have found nothing to be as slippery as old habit.

I decided to take a new path yesterday. I turned left instead of right out of our driveway. Across the bridge then towards the city. Cars raced past me. It was louder. The sidewalk seemed a little harder. Maybe I should just turn back, I thought. But I kept going. Turned to go down the embankment. I could hear the sound of the river. Bienvenue, it rolled. The ground softened. The colors brightened. I stopped thinking and started looking. Flowers were new. Listening. Two young girls giggled as they waded in the sea of white flowers. It’s hard not to smile when you hear giggling. And soon everything seemed to be — the water, the trees, the fountain, the birds — they were all in on it…

There are days, I must admit, when my brain wanders down a negative path. And it knows the way. So easily it can slide. And replay the tapes of negativity. Over and over. Step after slippery step. I’m getting better at catching it – before I slide too far. I really have to take a sharp turn to a new thought. And it can be as simple as changing rooms. Reading a book in a new chair. Going outside. Turning left.

As uncomfortable as change can be, it may also be the gift we are looking for. The gift we can’t seem to find sliding down the same old path. A butterfly kissed my cheek just before arriving back home. I get it. The universe wants us to be happy!

Some might lose their way today. If you’re able, be the giggle that walks beside, then leads them home.

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Hearts on the line.

They put just a little bit of rhubarb on the top of the tuna. The waiter described in French why the chef likes the combination, but after one glass of wine from the local vineyard, there was really no need for explanations. It was delicious, but more than that, transportive.

My grandmother grew rhubarb in her garden. Just as easily as you could see it from her kitchen window, I can see it today. The large pink stalks. I suppose it was the color I loved. I can’t remember ever eating it. I could paint a picture of that garden. The apple trees. The lawn. The garage. The barn. The chicken coop. The fences. The cows. The cowpies. The house. The doors. The stairs. It’s all inventoried and locked in my brain. These are the true gifts.

Of course she gave us presents. Each birthday we got a crisp five dollar bill in the mail. Even when I had moved away. Old enough to have my own apartment. My own job, it would arrive right on time. An envelope, with the handwriting I recognized as hers. I don’t know what I did with the money. Maybe a coffee at Starbuck’s. But I saved the envelopes. Her handwriting. Still with me in France. Forever written on my heart.

After the sugar rush of Easter Sunday, Margaux sat by me on the sofa. I was thumbing through the pictures on my ipad. She let out an audible gasp of joy. I stopped on the painting of my mom’s blouse hanging on the clothesline. Because she knew it. She knew the place. It was a part of her heart now. My heart gasped along in time, because we had given her that. It wasn’t the chocolate or any other presents, but it was the life here. The life that blew from my grandparent’s farm, to my mother’s apartment, across the sea, to the line behind our house — it was all a part of her heart’s inventory now. There was no need for explanation.

It’s all in the details. My grandma knew this. My mother as well. I hope I can live in the same way. Give in the same way. Love in the same way, because the stakes are high — our hearts, forever on the line.


You don’t have to blend to belong.

Our jeans were impossible to get off. We cinched the cuff. Rolled it a little. Then took safety pins to secure our coolness. Problems soon arose. Gym class. To change your clothes in the allotted five minutes was nearly impossible. This, combined with the fact that everyone was doing it — and how were we really “cool,” or different if the whole school waddled in the safety of being pinned? — made me quit the fad rather quickly.

I suppose I’ve never been one to blend. Maybe we think there is security in numbers. But to be lost in a crowd, is still being lost. And I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s oh so necessary. Oh so rewarding. To make your own way. Your own path. To follow it. And to allow yourself to veer. And those that are meant to walk with you will find their way. Without pulling or prodding. And that journey will be more than cool – it will be magical. Every step of the way.

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For good.

They were the whitest things I had ever seen. So delicate. When my mom handed them to me, I couldn’t believe they were my size. They weren’t winter gloves. And my birthday had passed. It wasn’t yet Easter. “Could I try them on?” “Of course,” she said. I slipped my chubby little fingers in the first one. And then the next. I wriggled the tiny faux pearl button into the opposite string on my wrist. I put each arm out. One at a time. And gazed at them, as maybe only little girls do. “Are they for good?” I asked, meaning for special occasions, holidays. “Yes,” she nodded. “They’re for YOU.” I beamed. It was me. I was the special occasion.

I wore them all day. Pulling my stuffed animals and baby dolls in my rusted wagon. Up and down the gravel road. I’m sure they got dirty. But I only remember the pureness of it all. Of the love given freely. My mother never waited for a special occasion. I knew I was loved. Every day.

We have a wine refrigerator. In it there are wines from the grocery store. Some that were gifts. Some that were purchased at very exclusive vineyards. I don’t pretend to know a lot about wine. I have caught myself at times thinking, when pulling out a bottle for a Tuesday evening, is this too good for a Tuesday? Should we save it? I shake my head and know – we are the good, the special, the occasion to be celebrated.

I encourage you to light the candle. Drink the wine. Wear the nice clothes. Eat the chocolate. Speak freely and often the words of love! For good!

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That flattering light.

That flattering light.There is a story of a young girl who saved herself from a herd of elephants. She turned left, when they turned right. “It wasn’t just by chance,” her mother recalled. “She knew that elephants leave the same way they came in.”

I suppose that’s true for humans as well. It reminds me of a quote by Maya Angelou, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”  Now the easy lesson would be just about the so-called “others.” And it’s an important one to learn, for sure. But I also want to be aware of the same, when it comes to myself.

People often say, when caught in a certain situation, acting in an unbecoming way, “Well, that’s not really me.” The truth is, if you do it, it is. But, I’m still a believer. For them. For me. It doesn’t mean that change is impossible, it means, most of us, most of the time, just don’t do it. We stomp our big gray feet in and out, in the same way. 

I wasn’t even sure where I would find the hope in this story, until I started typing. But when I saw it, the word, it became so clear. Unbecoming. By definition, it is unflattering. So the opposite would have to be — “become.” We, I, have to stop doing things for the mere reason of “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” We CAN change. We CAN become. If we want to. I want to. Whether it’s the way I came in, or not, I’m going to keep walking toward, and one day in, that flattering light. I will become.

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My mother’s giggle.

She could keep a secret better than anyone I knew, except for presents. For nearly every birthday present, Christmas present, it went something like this: About two weeks before the event, my mom would ask me, “Do you want to open your present?” “No, I’ll wait,” I replied.

“You could unwrap it and then we could wrap it back up so you could open it again…”

“No, I’ll wait.”

“Do you want to just look at it?”


“What if I just told you what it was?” She grinned.

“How is that different?” I smiled.

After about age seven, I knew the routine. But it was never manufactured. She truly was that excited to give me a present. And that was the ultimate gift, I suppose. Two glorious weeks of taunting excitement! Giggles and anticipation. Pure joy and love! That’s why I never wanted to open it early. I relished the time with my mother.

About two weeks ago, on vacation, I bought my favorite candle. The clerk asked if it was a gift. Yes, I smiled. She put it in a box and tied a bow. I still haven’t opened it. I just need a little more time inside my mother’s giggle.