Jodi Hills

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


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Fake books.

I had no idea. I saw youtube preview on decorating – the ten essential things he said he couldn’t live without. Was I living without? I decided to watch.

The usual suspects. Candles. Sure. Pillows. I’m in. But when he arrived at number four or five, he lost me. He pulled two large books from the bookcase. (You know I love books. I love words. I love anything bound together.) He was so excited — “Look you guys, fake books!” Nothing inside. Empty pages with fancy covers. He explained that you can get them for almost nothing and decorate your shelves. I still can’t believe it, even as I’m typing this. (Typing with the words that mean so much to me.)

Now, I love to “decorate” with books as well. Real books. Books that I have read. Books with words that still hover throughout the house. They have a life. A meaning. Books with paintings. Books with photographs. I love them all. They have an ever giving depth.

I suppose I want this with everything. Everyone. I want books with words. Slow cooked meals. Wine that has aged. And friends with souls. Deep souls. I don’t want fake — anything. 

There is so much pressure to have the best shelves, the most “friends,” the largest group of “followers.” Quantity. Quantity. Quantity. At any price. But as I see it, the only things worth having have to be real. Give me real. I want my shelves to be filled with the stories of life. The real stories. Even mine.

So I offer you this, from my imperfect heart — my pages may be tattered, dog-eared, but they will be filled with life, a real life, a gathering of cherished words. If we offer each other this, maybe life won’t always be pretty, but oh how rich it, we, will be!


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All the places I’ve been, I feel like going home.

For years I searched for “home.” Then I began to write about it. Paint it. And slowly, as most answers come, it became clear that “home,” not unlike “happiness,” was nothing to be found, but created. Continuously. Moment by moment. Bit by bit. So I did. I do.

You may think, oh, that’s too much work… but no, it was a relief. It IS a relief — a relief to stop searching, and just be. I think they both (this home, this happiness) have to be fluid, ever changing. Because everything does change. What made me happy twenty years ago, yesterday, is not the same as today. So I have to change. Grow. Decide even. What gives me joy? What gives me comfort? Right here. Right now. And live in that. And in giving myself the permission, the power, to change, to grow, and to decide, I feel — well, happy — and I can live here (wherever that may be), in this heart, in this moment, and think, this is home.


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I’ve been there.

We all wore them at Washington Elementary – the great equalizer. For one hour we not only exercised our bodies, but our humility, by donning the Phy Ed onesie – blue and white stripes on the top, elastic waist, blue shorts. Flattering no one. Winning and losing became irrelevant. You couldn’t get too arrogant if your side of the gym won the day’s event, because, I mean, look at you, you still look as ridiculous as the rest of us. So we just played. And we laughed. We had to. 

The classes after gym always seemed a little easier. Bonding for that hour, made math a little more bearable. It was the same after swimming class at Central Junior high, as they forced us to wear the dreaded green swimsuit. We didn’t make fun of the girls who arrived to class with wet hair and clothes disheveled after the allotted five minutes to change — we all knew we would have to go through it on our next cycle day.  

As we aged into high school, then adult life, we dropped all of the symbols of our survival. It gets harder and harder to tell what others have been through. And it’s not like I want to wear the uniforms anymore, no thanks, so we have to talk to each other. Share our stories. So we know we’re not alone. So we can be empathetic. Encouraging. So we can help, and be helped. Because we’re all going through something. Every day. Every minute. And wouldn’t it be comforting, as you arrived now to this day, maybe your heart bruised, or broken, your soul weary (straggly wet and disheveled from life’s lesson), wouldn’t it be nice to see the half smiling nod of the girl in the seat next to you saying, “I know… I’ve been there. I know…”


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You are part of my story, and it is beautiful.

Becky gave me one red cherry yesterday.  It was delicious. I named our cherry tree Becky. It seemed so obvious to me. Tom Sawyer describes Becky Thatcher when he first sees her, “the new girl in the garden… a lovely little creature…wearing a white summer frock.” How could this not be our Becky — our lovely cherry tree. She is, in fact, the newest of our trees. She hasn’t yet produced what one might call a real crop. Just a smattering of red cherries, but the most beautiful cherries I have ever seen.  

Summertime, to me, will always mean youth. The days are brighter, longer. Everything greens and blooms and grows, and somehow, I feel, so do I. 

Probably the first to bloom in my brain were the words of Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer. Huckleberry Finn. At the time they seemed more real than almost anyone I knew.  They jumped off the page. They were alive. They were my American childhood.

Through the years these books have been banned. But then again, so have I. I remember one church that wouldn’t let us in because my mother was divorced. We couldn’t go to the golf club because we were too poor. (And this I realize is nothing compared to how others are banned, but I, we, felt it just the same.)  And maybe it’s childish, (and part of me hopes so, because how pure is that!) but I still believe that we can learn and grow and become better. We can treat people better. All people. We can take the light of summer and start to see who we really are. Possibly even bloom. Summer is so open. So freeing. Maybe we can be the same. 

The birds are singing. I see Becky swaying in the morning breeze. Everything is still possible.


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The captain’s table.

It was my first job after college. To say I was green would be an understatement. I had heard once in college the best way to keep the conversation going was to say, “Yes, and…” So that’s what I did, with everything. Even to things that clearly the correct answer would have been no. Like do you know how to work on the computer. Certainly I did not. I didn’t even own one, but yes, I said, and I learned. Quickly. Do you know how to layout a catalog, work with Adobe programs — certainly I did not, but yes, and I learned. They asked me to design the flyer for the company cruise. I remember the tag line, “Oooh weee, Oooh wee baby…” (for those of you who don’t know, that song continues – “won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?”) The most joyful yes I knew. They asked me if I wanted to go along, be the “Julie” from Love Boat. Yes, I said. You can take someone, they said, a friend, or significant other. I didn’t have a boyfriend, well, not one that I was willing to invest a week in. So I asked my mother. She said yes. 

Now to put it in perspective, it was not that long before that we had lived in an apartment where you couldn’t drink the water. It was not that long before that my mother lived on Heath Ice cream bars, because she was just too broken hearted to eat.  So to find ourselves at the captain’s table was more than a delightful surprise. We dressed up, made our faces up, our hair up, and our chins up, and sat as if we had always been there – up! Smiles, through course after course, we seemed to get higher and higher. And looking at my mother, I knew this is where she had always belonged. Where I had always seen her, even on dry ground, the dryest ground of a gravel road.

They, he, and she, will all try to tell you no. In their own fear, they will want to keep you down. “No, you can’t! No, you don’t belong here. No.” Just make sure your heart isn’t one of them. Make sure your heart believes in you – gives you the courage to look up – to say YES!

I see my mother at the captain’s table, and think, what a gift she gave herself – and what a gift she gave to me! Over all the negative voices that surrounded her, surrounded me, she said, YES! And I still believe.The sun is coming up – Oooooooh weeeeeeeee, Baby!


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Still life.

I just couldn’t see it. I tried everything. (Obviously not everything, but a lot.) I was having one of those days — you know, where you just feel a little “off.”  I can’t tell you why, and I’m thankful they don’t come that often, but they do slip through once in a while. I was trying to create a certain photo. I was fighting the light. The angle. I put more in the picture. Less. It just didn’t feel right. 

I have learned this lesson countless times, on these days I need to just stop and do something else, focus on something else, or jump in the pool – anything! – but still, even knowing this lesson, I struggle for hours, and then it finally occurs to me, oh, yeah, it’s just not happening today.  And I learn the lesson again.  

This morning I’m looking at the pictures. They aren’t maybe what I wanted, but I guess they are what I needed. Each one telling me to stop. Open a door. Open a window. Listen. Breathe. 

I was listening to the comedian, Marc Maron, the other day. He was saying how he sometimes wakes up, and before his feet hit the floor, he’s thinking, “I’ve gotta do this… and this…”  And then he tells himself, “You’re comin’ in pretty hot…”  I laugh. I have that tendency. And I suppose that’s what I was doing for a long time yesterday, coming into the day’s corners way too hot!

I see the photos and listen. It’s a brand new day. You don’t have to chase it. Just be in it.


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The yellow dress.

I certainly didn’t know any artists. No painters. No writers. But I knew I loved both. Still, there was no outlet really. So I tried everything available. Played in the band. Sports. Wore the red and black — our school colors. We were the cardinals. And I blended in. 

It was in college that I began to see the different colors. Of people. Of opportunities. Still uncertain though of how that applied to me. Paths can be followed, or made. And I suppose that’s not a one time decision, but a daily one. A step by step. Because it takes courage — so much courage — to put one foot out, then the other. To shed the colors placed, colors assumed, and replace them with the colors of your heart. 

We went to the Raoul Dufy exhibition yesterday in Aix en provence. (I’m only now imagining the amount of steps it took to get from Alexandria, Minnesota to Aix en provence.) I stood in front of the painting, The Houses in Trouville, Normandy. Immediately I was drawn to the woman in the yellow dress. In a sea of red, black and blue, there she was, all in yellow. And I smiled. I don’t know if she was afraid when she stood in front of her French mirror. If she thought, today I’m going to be brave, I’m going to be different, I’m going to be me… It must have taken courage. And he saw that, Dufy did. And showed it to the world in the most beautiful way. Confirming what I have always thought, hoped for really, that you don’t have to blend to belong.  

We all want to be a part of something. To belong. But that doesn’t mean we have to hide who we are. I, we, belong in the painting, in the big picture. And how beautiful!  

There will always be a part of me that is a cardinal. And I’m proud of it. But I’m not only that. And I’m not only a yellow dress. I will choose my color, my path, daily, and light it up as best I can — hoping maybe, just maybe, it shines a light for you to see — not to find my path, but your own.


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Under today’s sun.

My Grandma Elsie bought the breakfast cereal variety pack. Those animated boxes in every color! OH how we loved them. To reach into the cupboard and choose! This was something! Each box fit perfectly into our palms – already sweaty with the anticipation of sugar. Moons and stars and loops that changed the color of the milk, and our collective heart rates. Our legs fueled, we began the day running. There was so much to see on the farm, and we couldn’t do it fast enough. We didn’t want to miss a minute under the sun.

My cousins and I couldn’t be more different now. Living separate lives, in separate countries even. A variety pack for sure. What a glorious gift to have been given options. Choices. I suppose when you have it, this freedom, it’s easy to forget about it. But I don’t want to take it for granted. So many do not have this luxury. And it is a luxury!

Gratitude’s sweet sugar fills my heart, and I’m still racing. To write the words and paint the painting! To see the day! To live the life! I was given a gift and I don’t want to waste one minute, miss one minute, under today’s sun.


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Just ride.

The trees are blanketed in last night’s rain. They don’t seem burdened, but relieved. They received what they needed.

I remember summer mornings on VanDyke road. It was gravel then. After a rainy night, (not too much, just the gentle summer kind) the road was firm and tight. It felt like I could ride my bike so much faster. And everything smelled possible. I had no schedule. No direction. I just woke up. Wiped the seat of my bike, and rode. The tops of my shoes were wet. And it felt like I was a part of it all. No different from the ground I rode on. And somehow I knew, just like the dew covered grass, and the trees and the road, I too would be given everything I need.

I haven’t missed a day of writing in 406 days. Before I began this daily blog, I thought I would have to search for the subject. But all I really needed to do was wake up, and see. Every day the world offers more magic than I can contain on paper or canvas. The birds singing. The taste of butter in the croissants. The dew covered trees.

As I walked around the house this morning to open the shutters, the tops of my shoes dampened. I smiled. It’s harder now to let go of daily worries, but when I wake up and look around, and really see, I mean really see, I have everything I need, just as I always have. No different from the youth and dampened gravel of Van Dyke road. I am a country away, but still home. I smile, and hop on today’s ride.


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Picture this.

By the end of the day, I am tired — which is a good thing. It’s a lot to keep one’s house in order. I don’t mean making sure there are no dishes in the sink (Well, of course I mean that too. I hate dirty dishes in the sink) but I mean the bigger picture. The bigger picture for me is working at my craft, painting, writing; learning (oh boy, I have so much to learn, not the least of which, French, and the toughest one, learning each day to be a better human); attending to the needs of those closest to me, which often includes just listening, caring, loving. My big picture might seem small, but it seems to fill my day. I can’t understand how people have the time to police the actions, thoughts, beliefs of others. It seems to me we all have enough to do to keep ourselves in order. How little exists in the life of a person who tries to control someone else?

Now I’m not saying we turn a blind eye to the events around the world. No. Absolutely not. (This for me falls under the being a better human category.) We stand up for what we believe in. But, in my humble, and maybe naive mind, I don’t think standing means knocking down the so-called others. But for one, aren’t we all others?

Being a human. This is something. Overwhelming at times for sure. But when my big picture gets way too big, I try to simply look around. Is there love? Yes. Is there hope? Sure! Is there joy? And how! Is the sink clear? You bet! (or that’s betcha for my Minnesota friends) I grab the nearest sketchbook and paint a pear. I call my mother. I kiss my husband. I take a walk in the sun. More than enough to fill my heart, to fill my day.