Jodi Hills

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


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My way.

They said I was “painfully shy” – my grade school teachers. But I wasn’t hiding. I was listening. There was a voice inside that I needed to hear. It was whispering, but I knew it was important. And I couldn’t hear it in the chaos — the running and screaming of youth. So yes, I was quiet. But none of it was painful, not for me.

We all learn and grow in our own ways. The only “right way” is the one you choose for yourself. 

I grew into my voice. My life. My way. I hope I still am, growing. Listening. Watching. And as Frank Sinatra sang at our breakfast table this morning, “not in a shy way…”  “Oh no, no not me,” I AM doing it my way. We smiled and listened, and ate the bread I made with my own hands.

The only thing I really fear is wasting time. And maybe the only way we can waste our time is by trying to live someone else’s life. Trying to live in the chaos of other standards. 

I can feel it when I’m “off.” I’m pretty sure we all can. And it’s usually when the voices of others try to take over the voice that lives within me. But I have found the ways to make it stronger, louder, more clear — with words and paint, and homemade bread. With breakfast conversation and music and love. With the smell of cut wood and grass stained shoes. With an unchartered path, and a hand to hold. This is the song that I’m living. The song that has always lived within. My way.


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Wobble.

I got up early to do my yoga. I brought the mat in another room so I wouldn’t wake up Dominique. Same house. Same routine. Just a new perspective. In this practice, it is necessary to focus on an object to retain your balance in the poses. This morning, my focal point was different. And oh, how I wobbled. What was so different? I know this room. And yet, this slight change completely threw off my balance. I’ll admit I was a bit uncomfortable. Not enough to quit. So I wobbled my way through.

Life changes constantly. We can’t prepare ourselves for everything. That would be impossible. But I think we can teach ourselves, little by little, to feel the discomfort, and work through it. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable. How else would we learn anything? Somewhere along the line, some big voice (maybe television, internet) told us that we have to be “happy” all the time, or we’re not living right. Now, I like happy — who doesn’t? But I also like feeling accomplished. I like feeling challenged. Feeling successful. Vulnerable. Creative. Open. Loved. And with all of these, you’re going to feel a little “wobble.” But this is also, (for me anyway) where the good stuff gets in –sneaks in as I fumble about.

In the last years, almost everything has changed for me. Country. Language. Surroundings. But these were the doors for love. So I opened them. Never have I felt more unbalanced. Never have I felt more loved.

Long before I ever imagined such a change, I wrote in my first book, “I am amazed that you let me fumble along beside you…” Still true — perhaps never more. So don’t be afraid. Wake up. Dare to dream. Dare to try. Dare to love. Dare to wobble.


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Being Georgia.

I’d like to say that I have a healthy respect for our garden tools – the weedwacker, the chipper – when in fact it would be more accurate to say that I am actually afraid of them. It doesn’t stop me from using them though. 

When Dominique uses the weedwacker, he finishes with little red welts all over his body. Me, I dress like I’m part of the New York City Bomb Squad. A cap. Safety glasses (and a visor, or two masks). Jeans. Gloves. And knee high steel toed boots. Yes, it’s hot. But it makes me feel safe.

We all have our own comfort zones. With everything. We have our own way of coping. Surviving. Living. I don’t think people would make fun of me for wearing what I wear in the garden — and to be honest, I really wouldn’t care if they did. I have to remember this for all of life’s challenges. I will cope as I see fit. And if it works for me – then it works for me. I have to give myself that freedom. And offer the same to you. 

Life is messy and at times frightening. As I stripped down in the afternoon sun — taking off all of my protective gear — I eagerly made my way to the pool. The glorious reward. Nothing feels better. Another challenge survived. 

It was Georgia O’keeffe who said, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life—and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” Today, as I step into life’s garden, I will don my protective gear, smile as I channel the brave and elegant Georgia, and I will dare to make it beautiful!


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Again.

When I’m starting a new canvas, with an old canvas, (something I painted before and it wasn’t quite right, or a vintage canvas I found) before I start the new painting, I have to gesso (paint over) with a fresh color. Just one color. A brand new start. A clean canvas. Maybe some can just paint bit by bit over the old, but I need a fresh start. A new clear vision. No obstructions. As I was doing this today, I thought, if only I could do that with the obstructing thoughts in my head. 

And so I gave it a try. Why not! I wrote down what I was thinking, and painted over it. Let it go. I’m not sure it will last, but for that moment, this moment, it feels good. I will give myself this gift again and again if I need to — a clean start. A fresh start. I smile and begin again.


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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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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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Feel like blooming.

There is something to the spring cleaning. The refresh. And it’s probably no surprise that the new Home Edit series was just released on Netflix. I will admit that I am excited by their organization. Inspired to do my own. This, mixed with trees in bloom, the flowers singing along with the birds, I begin.

I am not one who believes I have to buy more things to get my old things in order. No judgements, just me. I’ve always liked shopping my own dwelling. And I do. Frequently. I started with a good clean of the bathroom. Changed out the painting. Changed the postcard. Took the candle that I was gifted for Christmas out of its red container (red wouldn’t do) – put that candle into an appropriate container (a previously used up candle), and lit it, of course. And I picked a small flowering stem from our garden. As we say here, quite loosely I might add, Voila!

There is something quite satisfying about a spring refresh, and I slept well. The next morning, not quite awake, I turned on the bathroom light, and my heart smiled to the tips of my mouth. That, my friends, is refreshing.

I’ve started tackling my office. And it occurred to me, maybe I could do this within, within myself. An edit. Let go of the old feelings I’m not using anymore, the ones just cluttering up space, gathering dust…wouldn’t that be something! And even if it lasted for a day, a season, and I did it again, wouldn’t that, just like the spring birds, give my heart something to sing about! I think so! My inner voices must deserve as much attention as the shelf in my office. And so I begin. The load a little lighter, a little cleaner, in my house, in my heart. I smile, and feel like blooming.


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Lemonade.

It never occurred to me to have a lemonade stand. I don’t remember that anyone did when I lived on VanDyke Road. There were garage sales – sure. My grandma loved those. She loved chance. The possibility of finding a treasure. She ordered from Publisher’s Clearing House – which would explain that one year for Christmas when I received a pair of red lace women’s undergarments (I was maybe seven.) She walked the streets of “Crazy Days” – purchasing anything in a brown paper “grab bag.” This is where I got the idea to have my own “Crazy Days.” I had a few old broken toys to put in school lunch sacks. (This will tell you how well we did when my grandma purchased similar grab bags at the Ben Franklin.) I priced them at 10 cents and a quarter. Kathy and Renee Norton combined their allowances and each bought one. I was sitting on our front steps when they came walking back to our house, heads hung low. Mrs. Norton told them to get their money back. “Oh, Grandma,” I thought. Of course I gave them their money back. We never spoke of it again. I suppose that was the real treasure. I guess we were making “lemonade” all along.


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Heart song.

My mother had just begun piano lessons. Only a little girl. I don’t know how many lessons she had, but not many, and it was in these few moments that this piano teacher (and I loosely use the word teacher, because clearly she was not, as you will see in a second), it was this awful woman that said, not to my grandparents (which would have been bad enough) no, she said it to my mother, this sweet little hopeful fingered girl, she told her, “You’re wasting your parents’ money.” I’m still aghast! What a soul crushing thing to say. Now, my mother may have never become a concert pianist, but we’ll never know. And it was only for her to decide. But she didn’t get that chance. Then.

Most of our children of the world will not become professional athletes, professional singers, or dancers, or painters. But we aren’t raising “professionals,” we are raising humans. Humans with thoughts and hopes and dreams and souls. And it takes a long time to build a soul, filling it with music and movement and kindness and possibilities. And we should never be defined by money (I guess that’s what we are basing the word professional on). We can still be dancers, even if we make our living at the bank. We can be singers if we sing. Painters if we paint. And we get to decide.

It took a long time, but she got there, my mother…After all the tears and questions she realized that only she could decide if her heart was disposable or not…and it wasn’t. It was bruised and possibly even broken at times, but the amazing organ that it was, is, it kept beating, keeping time to her own true rhythm, the beat that would soothe her, save her, and play once again, the lovely heart song that only she could create.


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This time, she was not going to miss it.

Things were laid out pretty clearly. Summer vacation from school was three months. I had one bicycle to ride to town. Softball games were twice a week. In each game you got up to bat 3 to four times. You knew the amount of opportunities, and you had to make the most of them.

It’s not so clear as you get older. You don’t know, “will I go here again?”, “will I see them again?”, “will I feel this way again?” The opportunity you’ve been waiting for, may come only once. And as I think about it, I suppose they don’t really “come” at all – these opportunities. We have to make them. Find them. Create them. Invent them. And that sounds frightening at first, but if you’re not “waiting” — if, in fact you are creating it, then you probably won’t miss it. And I don’t want to miss a thing. This moment. This day. This feeling. I want it all.

I was maybe only 10 or 11 years old. It was the one softball game my brother came to see me. I was so nervous. I wanted him to be proud of me. I got up to the plate. Rhonda Steen was pitching. I hated her (only as a pitcher – as a girl, she was delightful.) She was impossible to hit. Why, on this one time, this one visit, did it have to be her? My sweaty palms clutched the aluminum bat. My knees shook. Strike one. I didn’t move. Strike two. I didn’t move. I looked back through the screen fence at my brother. She let go of the ball. I watched in slow motion as it rose above me, behind me, right in the zone. Strike three. I slunk back to the dugout. It was a terrible feeling. And really, up until this point, quite unfamiliar. I was a good hitter. Usually a home run every game. But nervous, worried, this time, this opportunity, I didn’t take my shot. He didn’t have to tell me, “Better to go down swinging,” but he did. I already knew. I never wanted to feel that way again.

Challenges arise every day. New country. New language. New family. Of course I’m still nervous. I still get worried. Scared. But I’m swinging. With all my might, I’m swinging!