Jodi Hills

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

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Building soul.

According to the song, we were not yet even “puppies,” but each morning around 8:15 — just after being dropped off of the school bus at Washington Elementary, and just before Miss Green began our 5th grade class — we sang alongside the turntable with Donny Osmond, “And they called it puppy love
Just because we’re in our teens…”

Of course we weren’t in our teens, but even just having a record player, we felt old enough to experience all the emotions. The closest we actually got to boys was playing four square on the playground. We rotated through the boxes, never touching, hovering somewhere between wanting to beat them and wanting to be liked. I suppose we thought the answers would come in the next song. But none of us actually had the money to buy a new 45 at Carlson’s Music Center, so we sang it again and again, 

Someone, help me, help me, help me please. Is the answer up above? How can I, oh how can I tell them,this is not a puppy love.”We began to lean on Mr. Iverson, our music teacher. Each week he gathered us together to learn a new song — new meaning new to us, but certainly old, perhaps older than our parents. We were desperate for new. “Please please please,” we begged, “let us sing something from the radio.” Our hands shot up straight in the air when he asked for suggestions. “Seasons in the sun” was the overwhelming response. They played it constantly on KDWB, the radio station that intermittantly came in from Minneapolis. Unfamiliar with the lyrics, he said he would play the record and decide. He placed it on the turntable and immediatlely his face turned. None of us had heard the actual verses. We were all just mesmorized by the chorus — “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun…” Unfortunately, the majority of the song was about dying. Somehow we had missed that. He scratched the record racing to get the needle out of the groove. I guess we were all in such a hurry to become older, at least puppies, that we missed it.

And that’s the gift, isn’t it? I’m always surprised as summer turns into fall. It happens year after year, and I’m still hovering between the bus ride and when class actually begins. Luxuriating in the 15 minutes of unsupervised freedom. Still ready to believe. To become. To begin again.

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The differences were many between my grandma and my mother. Grandma Elsie was much more of a Ben Franklin to my mother’s Woolworth’s. Grandma Elsie was penny candy and Crazy Days!  Grab bags and colorful aisles. Rules were loose and chance abundant. As a young girl, this was delicious, this fluorescent lit certainty — but not for every day. 

Perhaps it wasn’t as flashy, but I loved a Saturday morning at Woolworth’s with my mother. We went just as it opened. While most of my schoolmates rested on elbows before the television, fueling themselves with cartoons and Captain Crunch, I sat at the table in the back of Woolworth’s, thumbing through the Butterick sewing patterns. The ladies pictured on the front of the patterns were so glamorous. They not only showed you what the dress would look like, but what they would do while wearing it. 

My mother loved to sew. And she was good at it. Time didn’t allow her to pay a great deal of attention. Most of our Saturday mornings were spent at the laundromat, or the grocery store. But on those occasions when she placed the dream above the duty, we sat for hours inventing the lives we would live in pure Butterick style. 

I didn’t know for years that you could actually buy the patterns. I thought it was more of a library. They were expensive. So we pocketed the ideas. The dreams. And mostly, the time together. 

I can easily and often be overcome with Ben Franklin brain. The fast paced, bright colored, crazy day, sugariness of it all. It’s then my heart sits me down. Slowly. And says, let’s not be so sure for a while. Let’s just sit here and thumb through the dream a bit. It’s in this peaceful uncertainty that I can feel it — my mother’s lotioned hand, grasping mine. The glorious time slows to a Butterick pace. And I just breathe. In perfect pattern. 

“Not all of her dreams came true, but she was never sorry she had them.”

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Be the giggle.

As someone who grew up in the ice and snow of a Minnesota winter, I consider myself a bit of an expert, but through the years I have found nothing to be as slippery as old habit.

I decided to take a new path yesterday. I turned left instead of right out of our driveway. Across the bridge then towards the city. Cars raced past me. It was louder. The sidewalk seemed a little harder. Maybe I should just turn back, I thought. But I kept going. Turned to go down the embankment. I could hear the sound of the river. Bienvenue, it rolled. The ground softened. The colors brightened. I stopped thinking and started looking. Flowers were new. Listening. Two young girls giggled as they waded in the sea of white flowers. It’s hard not to smile when you hear giggling. And soon everything seemed to be — the water, the trees, the fountain, the birds — they were all in on it…

There are days, I must admit, when my brain wanders down a negative path. And it knows the way. So easily it can slide. And replay the tapes of negativity. Over and over. Step after slippery step. I’m getting better at catching it – before I slide too far. I really have to take a sharp turn to a new thought. And it can be as simple as changing rooms. Reading a book in a new chair. Going outside. Turning left.

As uncomfortable as change can be, it may also be the gift we are looking for. The gift we can’t seem to find sliding down the same old path. A butterfly kissed my cheek just before arriving back home. I get it. The universe wants us to be happy!

Some might lose their way today. If you’re able, be the giggle that walks beside, then leads them home.


Each song has wings.

I always knew I was fast on my bicycle, until Hardware Hank’s had a sale on speedometers. Before my brother secured it to the handle bars, I had my own way to gauge the speed. I sang. I knew two complete songs from Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark album, thanks to the constant play on my sister’s stereo. I knew how many verses it took to get past the gravel of VanDyke road to the smooth pavement. How many verses it took to get through the cemetery to the fairgrounds. I sang and sang. Past the tanks. Up to big Ole. Down Main Street. Each segment had a song. A lyric. A melody. I had created a soundtrack to the movie of my life.

The first ride that I watched the needle rise was rather amusing. I had a number now. Something real, I suppose. But then I stopped singing. And only watched the speedometer. My eyes darting from the road to the needle. Up and down. I began to miss it all. So focused on the number, I missed it all. The signs in Ben Franklin’s window. The girls laughing outside the Dairy Queen. The boys pushing outside Hardee’s. No music. Only a number.

I guess I learned pretty early on. It was always about the journey. And I didn’t want to miss it. I still don’t. It’s so easy to get caught up in the race of it all. Have to get here. Have to do this. Clock racing. Calendar flipping. And soon the music of it all disappears. Until I sing. Slow it all down and listen. Look around. Stepping. Riding. Living in the moment. In the movie of my heart.

Breathing heavy. Unsatisfied, I dropped my bike into our driveway. I found a screwdriver in the garage. Smiled with each turn. Dropped the barely used speedometer into the junk bin beside the car. And began to sing.

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Hearts on the line.

They put just a little bit of rhubarb on the top of the tuna. The waiter described in French why the chef likes the combination, but after one glass of wine from the local vineyard, there was really no need for explanations. It was delicious, but more than that, transportive.

My grandmother grew rhubarb in her garden. Just as easily as you could see it from her kitchen window, I can see it today. The large pink stalks. I suppose it was the color I loved. I can’t remember ever eating it. I could paint a picture of that garden. The apple trees. The lawn. The garage. The barn. The chicken coop. The fences. The cows. The cowpies. The house. The doors. The stairs. It’s all inventoried and locked in my brain. These are the true gifts.

Of course she gave us presents. Each birthday we got a crisp five dollar bill in the mail. Even when I had moved away. Old enough to have my own apartment. My own job, it would arrive right on time. An envelope, with the handwriting I recognized as hers. I don’t know what I did with the money. Maybe a coffee at Starbuck’s. But I saved the envelopes. Her handwriting. Still with me in France. Forever written on my heart.

After the sugar rush of Easter Sunday, Margaux sat by me on the sofa. I was thumbing through the pictures on my ipad. She let out an audible gasp of joy. I stopped on the painting of my mom’s blouse hanging on the clothesline. Because she knew it. She knew the place. It was a part of her heart now. My heart gasped along in time, because we had given her that. It wasn’t the chocolate or any other presents, but it was the life here. The life that blew from my grandparent’s farm, to my mother’s apartment, across the sea, to the line behind our house — it was all a part of her heart’s inventory now. There was no need for explanation.

It’s all in the details. My grandma knew this. My mother as well. I hope I can live in the same way. Give in the same way. Love in the same way, because the stakes are high — our hearts, forever on the line.

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In full Selma.

I don’t know where I heard the name before, but when I saw her — this little stuffed duck that my mother gave to me for Easter — I knew her name was Selma. She was the brightest yellow I had ever held in the palm of my hand. In the palm of my heart.

It was years later, perhaps well beyond what some might call my “stuffed animal” years, (but maybe with your own mother, you never outgrow them), that she gave me a squishily wrapped Easter present. It was Selma. And not just Selma for me, my mom called her by name as well. The original duck? No. The original love? Indeed. I guess that never changes. 

I name the trees in our yard now. The plants in our house. I have always thought when love blooms so beautifully, it deserves a name. I’d like to think that they are all in on it — as nature blossoms in bright Selma all around me. Maybe that’s what Easter is — at least it is for me — a love that continues to bloom and bloom, forever in the palm of my heart.