Jodi Hills

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


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Any Wednesday

I never imagined you could barbecue sardines. In my head, they were only those tiny little fish in a tin box. So many things to discover. Yes, they do come in bigger sizes. Yes, you can barbecue them. And yes, you have to separate the head and the bones on your own plate. And yes, they are delicious!

There is a certain luxury to having a barbecue on a Wednesday afternoon. Drinking a cool white wine, in the shade of the provencal sun. No longer reserved for a Sunday, but an any day. So was our Wednesday. He was grilling sardines as I sipped the wine and I thought, what a picture of France! (but I never stopped to take a photo) After we got home I thought, I should have taken a picture — capture the moment. But sometimes, when you stop to capture the moment, it disappears. So I didn’t have a picture on my phone, but I had one in my head. It raced down to my hands and on to the paper. The beautiful sardines. So black they turned blue. Grays turning into greens. The moment, not captured, that sounds too harsh, but more embraced. Embraced in the permanence of heart and acrylic.

I don’t know what this day will bring. This Thursday. Perhaps it will turn into a Saturday, if I let it. Why not?! There are so many things to learn. To see. Nothing to be confined in tiny tin boxes, but spread across summer skies and welcoming canvas.

Happy Day, everyone!


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Stumbling into joy.

It was no surprise that we stumbled upon the Storybook Sculpture garden in Abilene, Texas. I’ve been trying to get there my whole life. I didn’t know this sculpture garden existed, but storybook land…I stepped foot into it when I was a toddler, grocery shopping with my mother at Olson’s Supermarket, and in many ways, I’ve never left.

The shopping carts were lined up just after the automatic doors, in front of the large front windows. The sunlight seemed to lead directly to the first display of books and magazines. The bottom row, just in reach, was set aglow with Golden Books. And what a perfect name for them – for they were golden — treasure! Less than a dollar each, my mother allowed me to pick out one, not every visit, but quite often. My legs dangling from the silver cart, I held it. Smelled it. Hugged it. Knowing the adventure that would come when it was read to me that evening.

Soon, I no longer fit into the cart, and Mrs. Bergstrom taught us to read in the first grade at Washington Elementary. I picked out the books now by the title, and not just the pictures. I could read them myself, sometimes even before the shopping was done. What a world! Opening golden! I knew I would never leave.

I have traveled around the world. I really believe it has been possible, only because I started in these words, these books, this land where all things were possible. And it all still seems as magical to me as the day I was placed in front of the bottom row of books at Olson’s Supermarket.

I still keep a stack of Golden Books on my bedside table — a reminder to live in the magic, to keep believing, to keep dreaming, keep searching for the daily treasure.

I will be the first to admit, I sometimes wander off the storybook path, and get lost in the worries of the day, but somehow, I always find my way back, stumbling into joy. How golden!


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Growing the herd.

I first learned about herds on my grandfather’s farm. He had a herd of cows. “Why do animals need to be in a herd?” I asked him. “If the herd doesn’t pull together, it can be in danger. The herd knows its survival is dependent on the herd.” I shook my head. It made sense, but it also made me nervous. We, my mother and I, were in trouble. We had lost our herd. He could see me doing the math in my head, subtracting all those who had gone away. “How many does it take to make a herd?” I asked, hoping, pleading, begging with my heart for it to be a small number. I’m sure he could see my desperation for a clear and concise answer. “Two,” he said, and took my hand. Looking back, I’m not sure if he meant him and me, or my mom and me, but either way I was happy. I was a part of something. I would survive.

I’ve heard it used, and overused, the phrase – “We’re all in this together.” (I think I’ve used it myself.) But are we? Humans are herd animals. We do need each other. In a perfect world, I guess we would be – one human race – one herd, helping each other live a little better, a little stronger.

Each day I reach out my hand with words and paintings in hopes to strengthen the herd. You reach back by telling me your experience. And we find out a few more things about one another. My mom exclaimed in delight the other day, “I didn’t know Lynn Norton liked Jeopardy!” And we are all a little more connected.

The herd is as strong as we make it. Reach out your hand.


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My most expensive finger.

I hit it on the door yesterday, my most expensive finger. It seems it is always taking a beating. It’s my left index finger. I am right handed, and an artist, so my right hand gets all the praise and the protection. But perhaps my left hand is the unsung hero. It’s always being asked to do the, at best unglamorous, sometimes dangerous, things, like – “Hold this nail, don’t worry, it’s just a hammer,” or “Brace the ruler while I cut with this knife.” It has been cut and battered and bruised, and it still supports, every time it is asked.

I had only been in France a short time when I cut this finger. Cut it deep. Even the tendon. I needed surgery. I had no insurance, or faith in the system, or a grasp of the language even. I was afraid. Afraid of the doctors, the procedure, how I was going to pay for it… everything. But the fear was wasted, as it is most of the time. The surgery worked. I sold a painting. My finger healed. The bill was paid. (How fitting that the right would in turn support the left.) And this most expensive finger now continues to show up daily to perform the uncelebrated tasks.

But I want to celebrate them. This finger. The unsung heroes. Those who have shown up for me daily. I hope I thank them properly. Invest in them. With time and resources, emotions and praise. They deserve it. I know I can do better. I know we can do better – investing in these everyday heroes who show up, only asking, “How can I help?”

I grab the brush with my right hand and give thanks.


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Grace. For now.

Grace. For now.

I opened the wood filler to repair the corners of the frame. I rolled it around my fingers as instructed and this scent came to life. What is that? I know that smell. And then it took me – one straight shot from the south of France to the New Brighton basement of my aunt in Minnesota. My aunt Karolynn was a hairdresser. She had a full set-up in her basement. And by full set-up, I mean a chair, a mirror, and a sink. I’m neither ashamed, nor proud, to tell you that she used to, right there in that basement, give my hair a “perm.” (A permanent wave for those under a certain age.) I suppose it was a hairstyle. I suppose it was a trend – this completely unnatural kink of blonde curls. Oh, I wanted it at the time. I really did – along with so many others. Everyone had one. Women and men alike. And that was the smell — the lingering odor of my first lesson in the grace of not getting what you wish for. Yes, I wanted the permanence of this “perm.” I wished my hair would stay this way forever. Thank goodness it didn’t!

Through the years, I know that I have wished, and hoped, even prayed for some things to happen — some things that I was just certain would be great for me — devastated in the moment they didn’t happen — thrilled years later when I see and live the alternative! Relationships, jobs, moves, life… it’s funny how we can be so certain, and so wrong. Be careful what you wish for, they say…and I suppose they are right. But I’m not sorry for the wishing, the trying, the impermanence, the lessons, the growth. How would I know anything if I didn’t stay in motion? And on my way I try to remember that certainty is not the reward — it’s grace through the uncertain times, this is the gift, the only thing to really hold on to.

I repair the damaged frame, knowing that it won’t last forever — knowing that I will make it beautiful for now, and that is enough, more than enough, that is good – always.


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I stand.

I mowed the lawn yesterday. It’s two hours of pushing, seemingly all uphill. It’s not bad at the beginning. I am plugged into a podcast or music, the sun is shining, and my legs are strong, having forgotten about the last mow. About half way through, it gets hotter, my legs get weaker, but I turn up the volume on the music and trudge on. I push and the mower fills with clippings. I stop. I empty the container. (At the start I lift and dump, and eventually near the end, just kick it until the clippings fall into a pile.) I pull the string to restart. Push, kick. Pull. Push, kick pull. I shove my sweaty hair deeper into my hat, tighten my shorts and keep mowing. My shoulders feel hot. My belly feels empty, and I keep pushing. When about 90% finished, I start to think I’m really going to make it. This time I will finish without having to refill the gas tank. I’m sure I mowed much faster this time and I won’t need to refuel. Yes, just a few more times up and back and… chug, chug, stop. Bad words race in my head. I push the mower to the garage. Lift the gas tank, which now weighs more than I do, refill the tank, pull the string. Pull the string again. And again. It starts. I walk it back and finish the mowing. Done. Sweet and glorious done. I walk the mower back to the shed, not kicking out the last clippings, oh, I’ll do that next time… I take off my gloves, my hat, my shoes, sit at the outdoor table and look at my work. It’s beautiful. Has there ever been a greener lawn? Has grass ever looked so inviting? I mean, it is magnificent! Worth every step. I think that people should see this. Maybe we’ll have a barbecue, with family. They’ll ask if I mowed the lawn and I will beam – yes! of course! Take your shoes off, I’ll say. Drink the wine. Feel that carpet of green. Yes, yes, we will celebrate this mow! It is glorious. It is summer! I stand on grass stained legs, and feel lucky, proud even. I mowed the lawn!
I think of my gay friends. Some people wonder, “Why do they have to have a parade?” Why? Why? Think of all they have been through! All the uphill trudging just to be seen. I am ready to throw myself a parade after mowing the lawn. If they had a “green lawn mowing flag” I’d be waving it up and down the streets of Aix en Provence. Yes, I say! Have the parade! Wave those colors! It’s glorious!


I think of my cancer-surviving friends. Some may wonder, “Do they really need to buy the survivor t-shirt?” Do they?????? Yes! Yes, of course they do! And they should. Cover the world in pink and celebrate each glorious survival! Wear the banner proudly! You did survive! How beautiful is that??!!!! Feel the glorious earth of another day under your feet! You did it. You can feel lucky, proud even! You DID survive!


We shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate our victories, our accomplishments. And we must never block the way of others celebrating theirs. You can join in, or not, but clear the way when the flags of joy are raised. Remember in the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout, at the end of the trial, is told “Stand up, your father’s passing…” That’s what I think of – when I see the struggles, the trials, you have endured. For you, (and maybe even me), I have nothing but respect. And so I stand.


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Pulling nails

Yesterday I spent two hours pulling nails and unscrewing screws out of reclaimed wood. I like to call it reclaimed, and not used. Used sounds almost damaged, doesn’t it? Sure it is worn and in need of a little repair, but it has worth. So much worth.


To reclaim, by definition is “to retrieve or recover something previously lost.” This wood may no longer be an armoire, but now it will have new life. It may become the four pieces of wood that support the canvas that proudly displays the portrait of the previously unseen person. There is worth in that! A portrait held in front of the woman who says, “I never saw myself as beautiful, until today.” Now this is the ultimate joy, for me the creator, the wood, the canvas, the paint, the staples, the nails… for we all have a part in it. Even the armoire that no longer exists, lives on in this new face.


If we can see the beauty that comes from each step, and not just the final outcome, then maybe on those days that we are asked to pull the nails, we can still find the joy. There is no doubt you will be asked, for yourself, and for others. You will be asked to be the wood, be the canvas, the paint… and in time, without your knowledge or permission, you will be the one who shines – the face in full claim on the canvas.

So I, we, pull the nails, and reclaim the day.


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Klickitat street

It’s no secret that our thoughts control our hands.


My grade school travels were never alone. For a good two years I was accompanied by Beverly Cleary’s kids from Klickitat Street. Cleary was one of my favorite childhood authors. Yesterday, making the blog journey back to my own Klickitat Street (which we named Van Dyke Road), my thoughts were consumed with Beezus and Henry and Ribsy and Ramona.


It wasn’t like I stayed with them all day, but subconsciously, they must have wandered through my head, in their wide-legged, hurried steps of youth, because when I sat down to paint, there she was — slowly emerging with a smile that said, “I knew you’d come back for us.”

Beverly Cleary. Smiling. In the certainty of black and white – the certainty that maybe only lasted those two years I spent with them on Klickitat Street. The certainty I carry with me today when I need sure footing. When I need my thoughts to be pure.


Because our thoughts lead to actions. Have you ever heard yourself say, “I’m just so tired of this… just sick and tired of it all…” What have you claimed? What have you made yourself. You’ve secured that fact that you are sick and you are tired. We become our thoughts. I know only because I do it. We all do it. But when I find myself there, I try to go through my list? My list of haves… my list of blessings… and almost always, those thoughts can magically make the journey from my head to my heart to my hands, and I can walk in a better day. A better day — maybe not perfect — there are so many things out of our control, I know. But I think it’s always a good day if I can take a walk on a path of joy, a path of hope, a path of positive action. Who knows where it may lead? Who will join you?


I give thanks for all the fictional and nonfictional characters — (and yes, please let me be surrounded with the wonderful world of living “characters”!) — they, you, bring me so much joy — a joy that only makes me want to do more – be more — and be better! Today I call you Beverly. Tomorrow, by your name. I will come back for you. Again and again.


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Joyfully unprepared.

Yesterday we went to a bookstore for the first time in over a year. How delicious! I had thought all morning, “Today, I want to buy myself a treat.” Now you might think a treat would involve sugar, or chocolate, and it sometimes does, but this time, I wanted a treat to fill my soul.

We only had a few minutes before our meeting, so I circled the wooden table holding the books in English. Each title smiled and reached out its hand. I wanted to bring them all home. I let my fingertips graze the covers. And they stopped. On a sky blue. The color, arresting. The title contained the word Chicago. I was already in flight. Saul Bellow wrote words of praise regarding this author. Saul Bellow – I was back in college, studying literature. The author – a single mother, and I was in Minnesota, with mine.

We had to leave. I purchased the book. Is it risky to buy a book within two minutes? Never hearing of the author? Never hearing of the book? But we had already been on a trip, you see… no longer strangers. In those two minutes, I had been taken on a journey, without even opening a page. The only risk would be to stop now. The book is sitting on my nightstand.

If you’re looking for certainty, living is probably the wrong business to be in. Life is chance. Risk. Stumbles. Unlit paths. But, oh, what a journey! If you take it. If you wait until you’re certain, until you’re prepared (whatever that means)… you won’t do anything.

Nothing prepares you for this day.
Your heart is cracked open.
So you cry.
The world keeps turning.
So you live.
No one tells your heart to stop beating.
So you love!
Nothing prepares you for this beautiful day.

Pull the book of today off the shelf. Open it wide. Dare to fill your soul. Dare to enjoy the ride!


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Gratitude is everything

I found an old piece of framed panel deep in storage. Nothing on it. I don’t know if the person who bought it, made it, meant to put something on it, a picture, paint something, write something…and maybe they thought to do it, but time raced away and carried the thought with it and it just got buried. I dug out the panel. Sanded it. And knew I had to write something on it immediately. I couldn’t let the moment just slip away. We’re not given that many. But what did I want to say? I looked around and thought, today, I have everything, and if I write it all down, everything that I have today, then I will always have it. I have a husband who loves me. A mother who loves me. Children I’m not really related to. I have friends, dear friends, even the ones I don’t get to see very often, who still reach out. I have my health, and my curiosity. I have the desire to create, and the hands to do it. I have a house, and food and security and dresses that make me want to do the yoga. I have memories of places that I’ve seen, and maps of places I want to go. I recall, but not very often, the harder times that I made it through, that keep me honest, that teach me empathy. I have the knowledge that, even without money, I have always been rich. Rich! Today, I have everything, and I am so grateful.