Jodi Hills

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


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Winter in Minneapolis



There is a natural instinct, I suppose, when you experience something wonderful, to want others to feel the same. “You’ve gotta taste this,” we say. “You’ve got to see this!” And I enjoy sharing things from around the world. But these are the obvious things. The guaranteed positive response. The Eiffel Tower, example. The Vatican. I feel blessed to have stood beside the Colosseum. Floated in Venice. But it’s not a surprise really. I expect people to like these photos.

Winter in Minneapolis. Not the expected destination for travel. But there is beauty. And I see it. Maybe it’s all just a reflection of the people I’m with, but the light!!!! The beautiful light of this city. One that I claim. This is something! I shared the image with my French family. When she replied, in French, how beautiful she thought the light was, it made me feel special. Not just because I took the photo. But that she could see it too. We were a little more connected. Sharing this truth.

It’s why I share the stories of the places I love, but even more so, the people. When I wrote this poem about my mother, The Truth about you, I did it because sometimes I just can’t imagine the incredible luck, the pure blessing, of having such a mother, and I just want everyone to know. To see it. To see her. So pardon my repeats, as I keep spreading the news. The joy. The love I have for my mom, my city. This world.

The light is coming in from the window. I hope when you see it this morning, you will know, it’s for you too!


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Heart smiles.

To see yourself in the Alexandria Echo Press, was proof that you existed. The paper came out the day after our weekly softball game. During a slow news week, the local photographer would come to the fields and take some random photos. It happened only a couple of times between the ages of 8 and 12, but I can still feel it. That first glance of the sports page. Scanning. Long blonde hair. Bat. It was me. In full muddy black and uncrisp white. We rarely won a game. But that was never really the point. We were together. In the sun. With our friends in an endless summer. The proof was in our hearts, and randomly validated in the press.

When I finished this painting, the first thing my friend said was, “She belongs in the MIA.” It was as if I had turned the page and saw myself for the first time. I guess that’s what friends can do for you. Your true friends validate what is in your heart. They see you. And it is beautiful. 

We are going to the MIA this afternoon with this very friend. And we all will belong. Together. My heart holds the proof — and even with a dusting of snow, I know the warmth of this friendship will never end. 


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Plain to see.


I suppose it all takes time. To see the ordinary. And to appreciate it. Those of you that follow me here, have come, I hope, to know my grandparents, my mother, my schoolmates, and teachers. Some might say “just plain folks.” And that’s probably true. But maybe that’s the real beauty of it all. To find the spectacular in farmers, housewives and receptionists. To see the extraordinary in the daily living.

And in seeing them, it helps me see myself. Helps me find the gratitude of the day given. Of the toast for breakfast. The smell of coffee. The hand that reaches out for mine.

I am reading the book, “Love, Kurt (The Vonnegut Love Letters). I have this book, only because I have a special friend. Last year, together with our husbands, we went to Stillwater, MN. My friend and I stood in the bookstore as if before the Christmas morning tree. So many gifts in front of us, we had a hard time deciding. We each settled on our present. I loved her choice as much as mine. This year, she gave her book to me. Those simple words don’t seem to give it enough meaning, but I will tell you that it fills my heart. It brings me back to a laughter filled day on brisk streets and slow choices. It, for me too, is a love letter.

In the book, Kurt Vonnegut writes with his young pen, to his young wife, “Angel, will you stick by me if it goes backwards and downwards? Holy smokes, Angel: what if I turn out to be just plain folks?” Tears fill my eyes. I imagine we’ve all had the worries. Will I be special enough to be loved?

It’s these memories, of course, that give me that comfort. That give me the yes. My heart is packed full of the love from these glorious and plain folks. And I have loved them. Love them still. And I am one. Proud to be living with these extraordinary people. It is plain to see, they, we, are more than enough to be loved.


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Social studies.

We never had a lack of things to judge each other by, and Central Junior High made sure that we never ran out. Of course there was the usual hierarchy of those in advanced courses. The grading system. The hands raised in class. The sulking heads in the back of the room. But then they sent us to gym class. They timed us around tracks and arm-flexed hangs. They measured and weighed us. Tested us through units of gymnastics and every ball game. With no self-esteem to spare, they sent us to the pool once a week. It would have been enough to be on display in our one piece suits and skin-capped heads in front of the other 20 or so girls, but the pool was adjacent to the lunch room, separated only by glass windows. Like the theatre view in an operating room, the 9th grade boys eating cafeteria pizza had a thirty minute view. We longed for the “eyes on your own paper” rule of law.

I suppose the greatest gift was the lack of time. The allotted 5 minutes to shower, dress, and speed walk (no running allowed) with wet hair flinging down the halls, to math, or English, or Social studies, didn’t allow much time for scrutiny. It’s only as I’m typing this that I realize there was really no need for the social studies class, we were living it, from beginning to ending bell.

I only mention it, because I use the skill they gave us, almost daily. I can get trapped in the moment of self-awareness. How do I look? How do I appear? Am I being judged? But really, nothing has changed since junior high. I don’t have the time to worry about what everyone else is doing…so certainly others don’t either. (And if you do have the time for judgement, maybe it’s time to switch course. Quickly. Down another hallway.)

There is so much to learn. I hope I continue. I’m sure I stumble on my way to daily social studies. But then I see you, my friends, my fellows, my human contacts, all trying to make our way, and I smile.





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Friends

She hadn’t told me anything deep, dark, or hidden. It wasn’t a designated secure place. Neither church, nor Switzerland. But for some reason, on the return bus trip from an out of town volleyball game, I felt safe. In this back seat, looking straight ahead. Knees pushed against the seat in front of us, I told my friend, as I had told no other contemporary, my secret.

This friend listened. Without judgement or questions. Braced, as if I were passing her the ball. I could feel the words spank off from my overworked forearms. She took the ball. What a relief to pass it on.

We had Judy Blumed our way through Junior High, but when I asked, on this yellow-orange school bus, “Are you there, it’s me…” she listened. No solutions offered. Just release.

I don’t know who we played that day after school. I don’t know if we won or lost. But never had I felt more a part of something. I had a real teammate. We didn’t speak of it again. We didn’t need to.

It’s not necessary to me that she remembers. I won’t forget. I had such a friend.


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Held in mine.

In the “wee, small hours” of the night, when thoughts can get so big, I have a practice to calm them down. She has been gone for so many years, my grandma, but she continues to walk me through those uncertain hours. And it could be for anything really, tiny chaotic thoughts, or grand concerns — she’s there, unworried (as she always seemed), as I recite the poem of her life. It’s a long poem, as is her legacy, but it usually only takes the first line or two, and I am saved… 

“She was a beauty like he’d never seen,

Elsie turned his head with a smile,

When Rueben looked back

He knew for sure

That she’d be in his heart for a while.”

These words are the hands that held my mother’s, and my mother’s hands that held mine.

I have a weird little pinky finger. I will need a small procedure to fix it. The condition is apparently genetic. He asked if I remembered my mother’s hands. My heart’s response, of course, was to say I’m still holding it, and my grandma’s too… but certainly I remembered no imperfections. How could I? Their beauty will forever be unmatched.

Maybe it’s all the imperfections that make us beautiful. Or how we use them. I only know this for sure — they held, they gave, they touched. Beauties, that I’ll ever see…


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The in-betweens.

She was sitting just a table away from the band. Was it a wedding? In between the ceremony and the dance? To see her sitting there at the table, my not-yet mother, early twenties, I know her. One eye on the other woman at the table. One ear on the music. Size tens slightly tapping under the table. Ready for the dance.

It wouldn’t have been “old time” dancing then. Just dancing. Surely there would have been a polka — I see the tuba. But she was good at the in betweens, my mother. Teaching me that what we had, was exactly enough. It was easy as a child to get caught up in the next of it all. Rushing through Halloween. Making a path with the candy to lead to Thanksgiving. Clear the table. Get the dishes done so we can decorate. Wrap the gifts. Shake the gifts. Unwrap them. Happy New Year! But she taught me to enjoy the middle.

We both loved to read, so she compared it all to a book. Those center pages, when you are so immersed in the story, you don’t want to stop reading, but you don’t want it to end. This was the glorious part of living. This is where I want to live. Still.

It’s still easy for me to get caught up in the what ifs and whens of it all, but then I look at the photo. And I sit in the moment just before the dance. Breathe in the music. I will be happy. Right here. Right now.


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All is as it should be.

As paintings sell, our entryway changes. But not the welcome.

When I came back from my first visit to France, it was to let go of my apartment, and a majority of my things. But being my mother’s daughter, I still visited one of my favorite stores – Anthropologie. The first thing that caught my eye, other than the reflection of myself in a new dress, was a box of large letters. It struck me that I was in the process of melding my name with another. Orsolini and Hills. OH! How fitting that these two letters would describe our new life together. OH, what a surprise to have even met! OH, what delight! OH, my goodness I’m moving to another country! OH, how I will miss my mother! OH, I am in love! OH, I’m doing this!

These letters hang proudly on our front door. LIfe continues to surprise and delight. And certainly, from time to time, they symbolize a hanging heart, an empathetic “oh, understand….” And always, I am welcomed in.

We hung the new painting together. And maybe it’s ironic, or just that all is as it should be — either way, the recently sold painting is going back to my old neighborhood in Minnesota — OH!


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…and so she would dance.

I suppose we all have different destinations. I used to walk down Hopkins Crossroad and take a left onto Minnetonka Blvd. The obvious attraction to many was the bright red roof of the Dairy Queen. But not for me.

It was no accident, I suppose, that there was usually a Dairy Queen next to the softball fields of my youth. In dusted and grass stained uniforms, with skinned knees and sweat matted hair, all the young girls gathered behind cones, and cups. Celebrated or commisserated with frozen cream. Intolerant, being a word well above my reading level, I just knew I would get sick. (After two very unsuccessful attempts.) Sometimes I opted for the Mister Misty – the DQ’s version of shaved ice – but mostly I just went without.

I could have felt sorry for myself. My mother didn’t allow that. “Look around,” she said, on her way back to work, “You have a banana seat bike and a beautiful summer day, figure it out…” So I rode. I rode that bike to lakes. To swingsets. To ballfields. And neighbors. The North End. Parks. On gravel and hills. In cemeteries. Empty school yards. To the public library. Ben Franklin. Hugo’s field. I saw everything. I pedaled the paths and when the paths got too thick, I dropped my bike and walked. And walked some more. As I wore the flowers from my banana seat, and the soles from my bumper tennis shoes, without my knowledge or permission, I was indeed figuring it out.

I still think of it as my superpower — seeing beyond the obvious red roof. During my Minnetonka stay, I saw it almost every day, the weeping willow just before the DQ. One autumn, after dancing with it for an entire summer, I came home and gave thanks on the canvas. For the willow. The road. My mother. The love of the dance.


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Here.

I would always sit in the front row. I loved my English LIterature courses. I wanted to be a part of it all. My hand shot up before my mouth even knew what was going to come out. “You’ll think of something, ” my fingers encouraged as they waved in the air. It wasn’t about assuming I was right. Not about proving my point. I just wanted to be involved. To be among the words. Part of the discourse. 

I sat slunched in my chair. Sweating. Sick. My roommate had told me to stay in bed, but I didn’t want to miss out. Within the hour, my mom was on her way to pick me up from college and bring me back home for an emergency appendectomy. When Dr. Merickel gave the diagnosis of acute appendicitis, I smiled. He asked why I was smiling. “You said it was cute.” We hear what we want to hear. 

I went back to school two days later, a little lighter, but no less enthusiastic. All that learning prepared me for what was to come. Not in the way you might think. I didn’t learn any foreign languages. So when I moved to France, arms at my side, I feared the conversation. Even the most simple were acute! Trapped inside an introduction, I heard my brother-in-law introduce me as his belle-sœur, I beamed. I heard the word belle and thought “pretty.” And the word soeur meaning “sister.” It turns out that belle-sœur means sister-in-law. But once again, in this need to belong, to be a part of the conversation, I heard what I needed to hear. 

I don’t always get it right. I don’t think it’s always necessary. What we do have to be is brave. Curious. Willing to open our hearts and get involved. Be a part of it all. When I raise my hand today, it’s to wave you in. Welcome to my conversation. I’m glad you’re here.