Jodi Hills

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


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Out of the deep end.

I picked up the brush yesterday. As the paper turned from cream to blue, the clock turned back and I was five again. In my bedroom. With each stroke teaching myself how to feel. How to laugh. How to cry. How to wrap myself in a comforting blue sky. Lift myself in the most joyous of yellows. I wanted to feel it all. And that was the real gift, I suppose. Knowing that I had to feel it all in order to see.

When I first moved to France, the unknown language was like a weight in the water. But I had been through this before. Learning to swim at the Central School pool, we were tested in the deep end. We had to tread water for three minutes. Head and hands above the water. Feet kicking furiously below. “Lengthen your neck,” our teacher encouraged, “Lift your chin,” she urged from the side of the pool, “You can do this… Look up!” And it worked. As I stretched my neck and head toward the sky, I could feel it — I was getting lighter, higher…I wasn’t just learning to swim, I was learning to fly.

Here in France, in this sea of different, this Mediterranean of all that was new, I decided to look up. And I saw them. Maybe for the first time. The birds. Once again, I had to feel it all in order to see.

I hadn’t painted birds until I moved here. As my feet kicked furiously beneath me, my hands calmed, and I began painting them. So light. So up. So beautiful, the gifts that I, we, have been given.

As the bird comes to life on my paper, she sings her song of yellow , “You can do this…you just have to look up!”


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Hope dangles.

The chain came off my bike. For a few seconds the pedals spun furiously and I moved no where, then fell to the ground.

I was young enough that a mile from home still seemed like forever. I stepped down from the banana seat and saw my hope just dangling there. It never occurred to me that the chain would just fall off. I had ridden this route to town a million times. My mom was at work. I didn’t have any change for the payphone. I would have to get my hands dirty.

I secured the kickstand. Fumbled with my chubby fingers. It was greasy. But soon it became clear where it needed to be. Both hands black now, I navigated the pedals with my left and reached the chain with my right. Pulling. Reaching. Sweating. I wiped my brow. My forehead now blackened too. And then it clicked. Dropped into place. I looked around as if to say. “Look! I did it!” No one was there. I was still happy.

I didn’t ride straight home. It was just too thrilling to be moving again. I serpentined slowly through the streets. Gentle breezes whispered, “There, there…” Peace. Freedom. Joy.

I suppose adversity always comes with a bit of surprise, a bit of a mess. But I know I, we, have been given the tools, the strength, the will, to keep pedaling. I brush off my knees. I smile. Hope dangles beside me.


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The art of soulful living.

Sometimes when someone gives you a gift not attached to a holiday, we say, “for no reason.” But I say, for the best reason of all!

She handed me the heavy object. I knew it was a book. So I knew I would love it! I gently tore off the paper to reveal the cover – “The art of soulful living.” “I saw it,” she said, and immediately thought it was perfect for you!”  The book is gorgeous. Beautiful images. Elegant writing. But she saw me. She sees me. This is the greatest gift of all!  

A season of giving is about to begin. And it’s fun, as it should be. But it can get hectic. Racing here and there. And I don’t want to analyze it, or suck the life out of it, but just offer a small reminder — really, when it comes down to it, we all just want to be seen. We want to be balmed and healed by the moments we give to each other — the moments we take to say — for you, I’m not too busy.


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Stroke by stroke.

I learned to swim in the middle of winter. In Minnesota.

Every Saturday morning, our moms would drive us to the Central School Pool. In the locker room we unbundled from hats and mittens and coats and boots, into the unthinkable winter wear — swimsuits. We raced past the “walk” signs, up the stairs, and stood beside the blue. Bare armed. Bare legged. Looking out the large windows at the patient snow.

We didn’t know words like ironic, or unusual. Or even patience. We only came to swim in the heated pool of winter. And we did learn. All at our own pace. Some more afraid than others. But all eager to be able to eventually protect ourselves. Save ourselves. And then just swim. To get from one side to the other.

It takes patience to paint. If you have an idea in your head, the eagerness to get to that image is palpable. But it has its own timing. It will arrive slowly. Stroke by stroke. Sometimes I remember to take photos, to remind myself of the process. To remind myself I will get through. And it will be beautiful.

This is a new season for patience. My heart feels bare. Stuck out in the winter in my summer clothes. But I know everything has its own timing. Each day a gift, a lesson, something beautiful, stroke by stroke.


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Songs of hope.

I dug half of the hole yesterday. Moving dirt and rolling stones. It’s going to be the new home for our walnut tree (Uncle Wally).  He’s getting too big for the front of our house. I’ve told him it’s coming, but I don’t know if you can ever prepare anyone for a change that big. 

We live in one of the sunniest places on the planet, and for this I am most grateful. I love the sun! But the ground is hard and dry. Not so easy for digging a hole. That’s why I only did half.

I was feeling sad when I went to bed last night. All of my own life changes weighing heavy on my heart. And so I prayed for the speed and warmth of the morning sun. 

I woke to the patter on the windows. It was raining. My sarcastic first thought was – thanks a lot. I went downstairs to make the coffee and croissants. From the kitchen window I could see my half finished hole.  I rolled my eyes, but then looked again. Of course, the rain. The rain would make the ground softer. Easier to move. Easier to help Uncle Wally. Each drop was a gift. An answered prayer. 

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find
You get what you need.”


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Joie de vivre.

Someone was assigned to pull down the 8′ black shades and the white screen at the front of the class. Another student was assigned to wheel in the projector. The rest of us squirmed in our seats with hearts beating like gerbils on a wheel. Movie day at Washington Elementary was like no other. Nearly two hours of no memorizing. No reciting. No confusion. No pressure.

The sound of the wheel clicking into place. Then the film snaking into position. The projection light coming cn. It was almost unbearable. We had watched the same film for years. First grade. Second grade. Again in 3rd, 4th and 5th. It didn’t matter. It was the memory of pure and uncomplicated joy.

It has been decades since I sat at those desks. But I can feel it as though it were yesterday. Today, memories of my mother turn round and round on my heart’s movie reel. This joy is almost unbearable, but I know I will carry it with me, forever — for that’s what she was, pure and uncomplicated joy.


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Bagels and napkins.

She called me at work. It was my first real job out of college. We didn’t really celebrate the holidays then. My mother didn’t like to cook. So it was a big surprise when she said she was going to defrost the turkey she found in the freezer. I said I would come home and we would celebrate Thanksgiving. A couple hours later she called and said it turned out to be just a bag of ice. “Do you remember buying a turkey?” I asked. She said, “I don’t remember buying the bag of ice.”

We laughed. Hard! We knew what a gift this was! She drove to Minneapolis instead. We had wine and toasted bagels and made our plans for the next day of shopping. I will be forever grateful for these times! Our only traditions were love and joy!!!

My friend sent me home with napkins of orange and yellow – adorned with the word “thankful.” I was tired yesterday, and no one gets Thursday off here – of course Thanksgiving is an American holiday — so it was just Dominique and I. We could have eaten left-overs, but I had those napkins. I had that friend. I had those memories. So I made some chicken and mushroom risotto. Poured the wine. Lit the candles, and we gave thanks in our own special way, with love and joy. My mother had taught me just how to do it.

Let me always see the gift.


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Plentiful.

My first Thanksgiving in France, I wanted to create a traditional American meal. There were no turkeys available – that’s a Christmas thing for French. Even if we would have found a turkey, it wouldn’t have fit in our small European oven. There are no stuffing mixes. No cranberries. I stood in front of our empty cart in the grocery store and cried. 

Dominique, forever my cheerleader, said we (I) could still do this. We got turkey parts. Some berries that were bright red. I made stuffing from scratch. Cornbread from scratch. Potatoes. Vegetables. We had more than plenty for our Saturday Thanksgiving (no one gets that Thursday off).  And it was beautiful. Delicious. We gave thanks for this new family – this freshly carved tradition.

It all comes down to thanks. Thanks, not for what you think you need, but for what you have. I guess what I’m saying is don’t laminate your gratitude list. It should have pencil marks, pen crossings, exclamation points added, edit after edit, thanks after thanks.

Let’s all be grateful for the ever changing journey. For those who walk beside us. For those carried within. Happy Thanksgiving.


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Rugged path.

Everything can be explained away. But why would you want to? 

I was walking down the gravel path in Aix. There is a specific sound to footsteps on gravel. Almost a gathering in and a crunch. I know this sound. I grew up on a gravel road. Now, if you google it, it says that Softer surfaces like gravel reduce the force of impact with your running stride and may allow you to recover more quickly from the workout. Plus these softer surfaces require you to use stabilizing muscles that may grow lax on the road or sidewalk. I’m sure all of that is true. For me though, it’s the familiar of it all that helps the most.

Yesterday, desperately in need of this “softening” and “stabilizing,” I set out on our gravel path. Half way on my journey, I saw a sign — painted in yellow on a giant rock. Now I’m sure it can all be explained away. Perhaps it was put up for a running group. Directions for their race. But all I saw was the word “Ivy.” My mother’s name. Ivy. My heart smiled. I was home.

I guess we all choose to see what we want to see. Choose to feel what we want to feel. And for me, today and everyday, I am going to believe in the magic of it all. I’m going to believe in my feet, my heart, and the love that is always out there, leading me on this, sometimes rugged, but always beautiful path. 

My heart is well traveled.


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Beside still waters.

“If wishes were fishes, we’d all be in the brook.” My grandma used to tell me that. Maybe that’s one reason why I like the water so much.

We closed the pool down for the season. It’s a process. One that I never dreamed I would ever have to learn. Coming from the land of 10,000 lakes, nature took care of all that on her own.  We vacuumed and brushed. Swept. Scooped. Added the extra chemicals. Covered it. Then placed a net on top of the cover. I got a little dizzy, bending over, putting the stakes in the ground to hold the net. I leaned against the pool house, gave thanks, and said goodbye to the season. I know another will come. I believe in it. 

And in this new season, I will wish new wishes, and be buoyed by all the ones that have come true. And there have been so many. Pools and pools and lakes upon lakes filled with blessings. Oceans have been crossed and filled. I know how lucky I am. When I stop to lean against the sturdy of gratitude, beside still waters, I am saved.