Jodi Hills

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


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Coffee spoons.

I suppose it all comes down to relationships. The cherry on top.

There was a store in Minneapolis, four stores really – the Bibelot shops. They ordered big, and consistently. As we drove through Linden Hills yesterday, it all came back so clearly. I would make that drive almost weekly. Loaded up my car with the pictures and books and cards. Drove through the manicured streets. Off of France. Toward lake Harriet. Unloaded the car to smiles. Seeing my items on full display, my heart was full. I belonged. And it was nice, the money, it was how I made my living of course, but it was more than that — it was the relationships. I had so much respect for the owner – Roxy. A single mother who created the stores herself. From nothing, into something grand! Prosperous. Beautiful! All this success and she was kind. Welcoming. To me. To my mother. And each of her employees reflected her. I would meet the buyers in New York. Both tall and beautiful, they stood out from the crowd. I could see them coming from far away, and my heart beat strong. I knew I would have an order. I knew I would be seen. What a glorious thing for this small fish in this gigantic pond.

My hands waved out the car windows as I relayed these memories to Dominique. Memories on every street. Coffee here. Friends here. Sundays here. Wine here. Shopping here. My first museum. First photo shoot in this studio. Life opened here. I was T.S. Eliot pointing out all of my “coffee spoons” — “for I have know them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, morning, afternoon, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

Oh, to be blessed with all the cherries. I’m sitting in a friend’s condo as I type this. It is beautiful, certainly. I love the beds and pillows. The view of the Galleria. The French soap. The candy drawer. But mostly it’s because they share it with us. To know we have friends like this — how red, round and sweet!

Reach out your hands today – arms length – it is a day to be measured.


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Rolling and tumbling.


It was our first real restaurant date a decade ago. His first time in Minneapolis, he wanted to see the Mississippi River. We sat outside on a sunny day. My heart was all jimbly – that feeling of not falling, but rolling and tumbling into love.

We had been exchanging emails. My first said, “I hope our worlds collide.” I can’t say why I used that word – I had never before. But I did. And he came to Minneapolis from France. We sat by the river at the Wilde Cafe. Eating. Drinking. Rolling. Tumbling. We went inside after eating, to pay and use the restrooms. There was a small table with postcards and advertising. I came out of the bathroom and he was holding one. Smiling like the Cheshire Cat. Across the top of card it said – Collide.

Routines can set in through the years with coffee and croissants. And while they provide comfort, sometimes, you have to take a minute and remember why you started the journey. Why you jumped in, heart first. Sitting in the same place yesterday, I, we, could feel the “wilde”. I loved the restaurant. The coffee. The plated food. Delicious. My city. The city that let me in, and let me go. I loved it more. The sun. The breeze. The river. This man. All knowing my name. My heart. All willing to collide with me – heart to heart. And perhaps even more importantly, willing, joyfully, to keep rolling along beside me.

A new day is beginning. I want to keep that feeling alive. I encourage you to do the same. Taste the coffee. Smile at the sun. Fall in love with your life. And keep rolling.


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Waking in color.

I can still feel it when I go into the hospital – any hospital – any country… I am a teenager, and the doctor’s are rebuilding me joint by joint. Most of the time, it started the same. In the dark of early morning. (I still don’t like waking in the dark.) We’d often stay, my mom and I, at my Aunt Karolyn’s house in Minneapolis. She would take us out at the crack of dawn. None of us having slept. Anxiety that we all carried in different ways behind slight smiles. Quietly we’d weave into the shift worker’s traffic. She’d drop us off at the nearest door. Forms were filled. Each letter rising higher in my throat. Gowns. IVs. I can feel my heart tighten as I type. I don’t know if it was worse being put to sleep, or waking up from the anesthesia. I threw up going in, and coming out. But I made it. We made it.

Wheeled back into that generic room, she stood out like a flower – my mom. Tall. Dressed in yellow, or turquoise. Her signature colors. Her signature warmth. And I was saved. Over and over we did it. 20 times. And she was there.

Nurses would often say, “Oh, I can tell you are mother and daughter.” “Oh, yes, you look alike.” “I can see it!” And mostly what I felt was relief. Yes, it was a compliment, I thought she was beautiful, is beautiful. But what I saw in her, every time I woke up in a strange room, a sterile room, she was color, she was familiar, she was warmth, she was home. And if they could see even a tiny bit of that in me, then I thought, now I don’t just have something to save me, I have something to give.

And I do. I try anyway. In every card, painting, book. I want you to feel the comfort in it all. The words. The paint. I want you to awaken to the colors I’ve been given. The colors I share with you. The colors that are bursting inside of you right now. Feel the compliment of love. The security. The joy. The love, and then pass it on. We’ll all be saved.


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Being a cardinal.

We never imagined ourselves as the toughest. We were birds. We played other schools that were tigers, bears, bison, wolves, eagles even… And when I say we played, we really did play. We had fun. I’m not certain if that’s why everyone joined, but I think so. And we were proud to be cardinals. Lovely red birds who played in the afternoons. No one was ever really threatened or intimidated by us, the cardinal girls, but still in the song we sang on the bus, we deemed ourselves mighty — “We are the cardinals, mighty, mighty cardinals, everywhere we go – oh, people wanna know- oh, who we are – so we tell ‘em… (and repeat).

And I think mighty be the exact right word here. Sure, we competed. We even won sometimes. But there was so much more. We did everything together. Dressed together. Hoped together. Sang together. Won and lost. Even cried sometimes. All together. And those years in school, when hope was really all I had — to do it together, was everything. And maybe only a couple of girls knew my story, but it didn’t matter. I don’t think we needed details. They didn’t seem to. I was part of something, and I, we, knew it was way more important than being the best – it was about wanting the best for each other. Being a part of something bigger than ourselves — I guess that, by my definition is mighty.

We were on the radio yesterday. Telling our story. What a delight! How did we fit together? How did we fit in this town? It felt like red and black joy. I was, again, a dancing cardinal!

It’s human nature I suppose to want to know all the details. But when you are welcomed, just for being you, brought into the colors without judgement, oh, what a feeling! People who will laugh with you. Ride with you. Win and lose with you, and still find a reason to sing — surround yourself with these people — people filled with hope, friendship and love — this is one mighty team! Everywhere I go-oh, I want people to know-oh, Yes, I am a cardinal…


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Next year’s garden.

Maybe there’s only two ways to look at things — there is no point to anything, or there is a point to everything.

I am a bedmaker. Some might ask, “What’s the point? — You’re going to mess it up again tonight.” I understand. But for me, I like a made bed, so I make it. And it matters to me. It starts my day the way I like it. So it goes with everything, I suppose, we either decide that it matters or it doesn’t. And that’s how I fill my day. My time here.

One of my dearest friends is a hospice nurse. She had a patient. A woman. This woman knew what was happening. She was completely aware. Not naive to the very brief time ahead. But one day, when this hospice nurse arrived, the woman was busy. She was planning next year’s garden. What would be planted and where. Seeds. Earth. Growth. All going down on the plan. On the paper. And that’s how they spent their day. Their whole day. Another nurse asked, “Well, is she in complete denial?” “No,” my friend said, “Today she just wanted to spend the day living. Not dying. Doing something she loved.”

I pray I do this every day — spend the day living. So I write the stories. Paint the paintings. Some might ask what’s the point? Did the painting sell? Were the words best sellers? The point is in the doing. The making. The living. And it matters. I have to believe that. So I wake up early, sort through the words — the seeds of my heart — and I plant my garden. Every day.

Here’s to forever gardening.


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Rolling beside you.

There was no registry then. No services. If you babysat, word got around. If parents went out for the evening, and returned to the same amount of children as when they left, it was considered a success, and they passed along your phone number.

And it wasn’t like we as babysitters did any checking on the parents. (Nor did our own parents.) Because strangers paid the most money. Tourists visiting for the summer, could pay up to a dollar an hour. A dollar! Had we even considered the risks, which we didn’t, it would have been worth it.

I can’t believe we weren’t terrified. Getting into the stranger’s car. (Sometimes on the back of a motorcycle.) Only teenagers. Waiting. 2am. 3am. A cat nobody mentioned jumping out of the darkness. Thinking about it now, it sounds like a horror film. But yesterday, as my friends and I reminisced, it became a comedy. Bent over laughing from the mere thought that we got in any car! “Any car!” “For a dollar an hour!”

Once survived, I suppose everything eventually becomes a comedy. And it binds us. That cleansing laughter, that joy that clears a path to the purest part of your heart and soul, maybe this only comes from the ones that really know you. On this path, you can call all those who walk beside you, (and roll beside you) true friends.

Leaving the park the other day, I saw two little girls holding hands. It struck something inside of me. I clasped my two hands together – trying to remember. What did that feel like? I wanted to recreate it. That trust. That beautiful feeling of thinking, this is my friend!!! That feeling that was so powerful, so alive, you just had to grab on to it.

I’m smiling now. Feeling, all of it. Grabbing hold with my chubby little hands. I have such friends. Forever.


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Making heirlooms.

I looked it up, to see the exact definition —. Heirloom: a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations.


I don’t suppose we’ve ever been a family of objects, but I’don’t feel badly about that. Because we do have valuables. My grandparents, being farmers, grew something every year. Not for display. But for the growth. The life. And the stories that remain, even after every truck and tractor, every tool, had been auctioned off, the stories remain. And I hear them. I write them. And I pass them on – these heirlooms.

Since I can remember, I have only seen my brother in overalls. He is not a farmer. I’m sure if you asked him, he would say for the comfort, the pockets, easier to work in… and those reasons are probably all true. But it occurred to me that maybe he is creating his own heirlooms. Just as I write the stories, he puts on my grandfather’s wardrobe, and gives his own grandchildren an image of the past. An image that they certainly will carry with them forever. Their Grandpa Tom wore overalls.


We get to decide what is valuable in this life. What is important to us. For me, it has always come down to the human connection. Never to be displayed on shelves, but certainly displayed daily, in hands reaching out, arms pulling in, love grown, lives shared.


Some days, as I type, I wonder, is it really important, to write these words? And then you respond with memories of your own. Share your stories — your heirlooms — and grandparents are kept alive, traditions, schools, hometowns… and I smile and know it is valuable — making these daily heirlooms.


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Buoyed.

I could feel our friendship slipping away at Le Homme Dieu beach. We had been best friends. Inseparable really, for the whole school year. Sleep overs every Friday night. A secret language whispered across the desks of the classroom. Navigating through all the changes together. Would it be time to start wearing a training bra? And what were we training for? It was all so exciting. So thrilling. A little terrifying, but we were doing it together.

That summer, she living in Victoria Heights, went swimming at Lake Le Homme Dieu beach. I was a Latoka girl – had been ever since I could ride a bike. It was mid summer when she invited me to a small party, probably birthday, at Le Homme Dieu. My mother dropped me off. There was splashing and high pitched squeals. Water flying. Sand kicked up from heels. The same thing was happing at Latoka, but it felt different. I felt different. They all seemed to be in step. They knew each other’s moves. They had their own water dance. I tried to feel my way into the crowd, timing it, like Double Dutch. I felt like I was tripping. My best friend was making new friends. She fit into a new crowd. I was happy for her, and a bit sad. I didn’t have the word for it then – this melancholy – , but I knew the feeling. I knew the school year would bring changes. We would go in different directions. It had already happened before. A couple of times. Each change survived, and thrived. The newness conquered. Then enjoyed.

Yesterday, I went swimming at that same Le Homme Dieu beach. Just a slight touch of autumn whispered in the air. I was a child again. Buoyed by the same waters of youth. I now live in the French language of this lake. Bigger changes than I ever could have imagined. But life gave me the tools. I suppose it always does.

There is a melancholy in air. I feel it every year. And it doesn’t scare me. I enjoy it actually. Change is going to come, going to be survived, enjoyed even, as we kick up the sand, splash in the water, and navigate life’s dance.


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Language of youth.

“That’s where I went to school,” I said as we drove past Washington Elementary. “Do you want me to tell you every time?” I smiled as asking. (It’s a small town. That could easily happen daily.) “Yes,” he said.

Washington Elementary is now a set of condos. Central Junior High – offices. Jefferson Senior High – gone. I still carry the evidence that it was there. In my heart. In my mind. I hope, in my actions.

There is a universal sound of children on a playground. In every country. It doesn’t matter the language, you understand it when you hear it. Let loose from the weight of the classroom, the laughter and excitement explodes into energy. Through unlocked doors into the open air, this collective sound of belonging, growing, building, LIVING. No burden of trying to understand — they just do — understand that this is their time, their joy, and they are free. It is the cartoon language of youth.

I hear it in France. I heard it yesterday in Alex, as we drove by the condos of my education. Maybe we all want to keep it alive. Hear the sound of possibility. So, I tell my husband every time, and we smile. We hear it. No burden of trying to understand, we just do.

I suppose that’s why I write each day. To keep the language of youth alive for all of us. Can you hear it? Oh, please hear it. If, you like, I’ll tell you again tomorrow — because, my friends, this is our time, our joy — and we must LIVE!


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Into the blue.

We’re seeing the blue of the lakes now, not the frozen white of our last visit. Both will take your breath away, but for completely different reasons.

I’m not sure that we ever heeded the warnings, or even saw them, but they were there – “No life guard on duty. Swim at your own risk.” But the lakes were always open. Maybe that’s what I loved most about them. The beaches were public. No discrimination. (Even though our diversity at the time ranged mostly from pale white to deep red.) There was no concern for money or status. The blue waves didn’t know if you belonged to the golf club. What church you went to, if at all. No question of status. The water was open. So warning or no warning, I, we, would go in. The only risk seemed not to participate. Every day was a gift. Perhaps because we new the impermanence. Those waves would soon be still. Frozen. So we raced in. Under the sun.

I didn’t know at the time how telling it was. Everything would always be “at your own risk.” There would be nothing to protect you as you went into the deep end, of love, of life. But I remember. First toes. Straight out of winter boots, feeling the cool sand. Then wet. Colder still. But my heart is saying, you’ll adapt, go further. White shins, almost lavender, walking forward. Thighs shivering. You could wait. No, I can’t wait. Up to the bottom of my suit now. No turning back. Belly button retreating out of fear, like a turtle. Arms raised to prolong it. Brain saying retreat. Heart saying Go! Feet – always following the heart. Hands coming down. Splashing. You’ll be fine. It will be great. Heart beating – go -go, go-go. Diving under. Everything slows. Free now. Am I a fish? A bird? Everything is wild and easy and light. I belong. I am free. Nothing wasted.

The sun is coming in from the window. Blue shimmers all around. There will be chance. Choice. Risk. Love. I smile. Toes wiggling, I listen to my heart as it speaks daily, “Go further. Deeper. Into the blue.”