Jodi Hills

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

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The season.

When I moved to France, I left behind my Christmas decorations, but certainly not my Christmas spirit.

The first thing in my new collection was a cardinal that I painted. A female cardinal. A symbol for me in so many ways. A visit from those who had passed on. A vision of hope. Not to mention my high school mascot. A winged collection of all that I am. All that I can be.

And never was it more true. I carried it all with me. Hope won’t weigh you down. Nothing is lighter, except perhaps joy.

I have added to my collection through the years, but it’s these wings that begin my celebration of the season. Long before Thanksgiving. They can’t be contained by calendar or country.

I’m writing to you today from Paris. But no different than yesterday from Aix en Provence. I am just here. With you. And what a comfort that is. Knowing it, I can believe my mom sits beside me, planning her outfits and sipping her latte. My grandma fills her purse with extra snacks. My grandpa perches his pipe between silent lips. My husband smiles at me, knowing our table is always full.

I don’t need the Starbuck’s cup to tell me that it’s Christmas. My heart and wings already know.



I suppose it was at the beginning of each school year that I began waiting for Christmas. Ticking off the markers. The autumn sports on fields or in bleachers. The Halloween candy counted, saved, stretched until Thanksgiving. The first snowfall. Cars and snowballs pushed through the white, making tracks to Christmas. The forever that it seemed to take, now looks like a blur. Maybe my head rested in waitful agony during the math class that explained “time plus time equals speed” — but it’s oh, so clear now. 

It seems too many of us have missed the lessons. 

Today, all I want is candy corn, and for time to slow down. If I found such a sack of delicious treats, I would pull them out kernel by kernel. I would eat the white tip. Then the orange, then the sweet yellow. The yellow is my favorite of all. You will never be able to convince me that each color tastes the same. Not for me. But if I found this sweet candy, I wouldn’t rush the yellow. I would give thanks for the white. Praise the vibrant orange. And pause, twirling the golden tip in my fingers. Sweet yellow. As sweet as Christmas morning. Time held in my hand.

I’m learning the lessons. Still and again. Trying to enjoy the minutes. The hours. The day. Not waiting for “someday”. Our “someday” is now.


True colors.

It’s odd to think of Christmas in this French summer heat, but there it was, along my daily gravel path. The color of the wild flowers against the sea of green — the same combination my friend Deb used for her Christmas decorations. 

Lounging in our chairs at the Starbuck’s near my apartment, drinking extra-hot vanilla lattes in the still-welcomed air conditioning of the lingering September summer, we thumbed through the Jonathan Adler catalog, already dreaming of Christmas. We could never start too early. We both loved decorating for the holidays. It was here, eleven years ago, that she changed her color palette. And a bold palette it was. More pink than red. More yellow than green, but still a nod to the tradition. Each holiday piece that she put out was in this new palette. Right down to the candy purchased in Stillwater, Minnesota. 

With French pebbles still in the soles of my shoes, I stepped directly into her apartment. The familiar scent of candles. The corner tree blinking. Shelled pistachios next to chocolate covered in a deep pink candy shell. (Ever in the palette.) And just like with the catalog, we went through her apartment and pointed out, praised, loved each and every detail. 

If you think this all shallow, you would be wrong. Because I knew what this break from the traditional palette meant. I knew what not fitting into the norm of it all felt like for her, for me, (for so many). I knew the pain she had suffered losing her husband first to mental illness, then divorce. The jobs she had lost. The lifestyle she tried to regain. The navigating of keeping tradition for her son, creating a new life for herself. I knew her colors, inside and out. She was my friend.

And isn’t it just like a friend to show up with a wink and smile, lifting your heart and heat weary feet on a gravel path. I suppose that’s what real friends do, at any time, any distance, they show you their true colors, and allow you to walk in  yours. 

If you see a spring in my step, you know I had such a friend.


Dampened straw.

I wrote it years ago — Careless with my Christmas. A story about how I just didn’t fit into the Norman Rockwell painting of it all. So I stopped trying — not giving up on Christmas, but letting go of the idea of what it was “supposed to look like” — I stopped trying to paint myself into someone else’s picture and start living in my own. Maybe we all do that – try to fit into some impossible, and inevitably disappointing version of the “perfect Christmas.” That perfect version only happened once, and to be honest, it wasn’t even all that perfect — it included rejection and wandering and acceptance, and and hope and love, rugged ground, and straw — but that was the real beauty, I suppose, the grace that lay in all those imperfections.

I made a promise to myself, those many years ago, that I wouldn’t waste another Christmas, trying to make it perfect. I looked into the manger of my heart and promised I would take care, appreciate, and never let another slip away. We’re not given that many.

I’m not saying it has been easy. Last night, the first Christmas Eve without my mom, I fought those tears of tenderness all evening. And then, I couldn’t. We opened up our Christmas fortune cookies (I told you I had gladly given up on the “normal.”) The print was way too small. Margaux read it aloud in French, and then English — “When two hearts are connected no distance is too far.” I guess it wasn’t chance that I received that message. I let the tears flow. And it was OK. It was good to feel it.

I wasn’t careless with the tears. I let them fall gently. Held them in my hands. Dabbed the lines. And took the dampened straw of my heart back down to the lit tree where we opened presents. And hugged. And smiled. And loved.

Today, we will do it again. And it will be different. Possibly even difficult at moments, but it will be beautiful.

Take care of your heart. Take care of each other. Take care of this perfectly imperfect, Christmas Day.

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Tiny airplanes. Little horses.

We were both surprised to see how excited he was for the carnival. Charles is at least 6’ tall, but only 14. His voice changed before his heart. He wanted to go on the rides. The city of Aix doesn’t have room to house giant rides for the Christmas fair. They are mostly for toddlers. Tiny airplanes. Little horses. We could see he was disappointed. Sometimes, you just want to be small.

Some might say I’m too big to miss my mom. But nobody told my heart. So I eagerly await in the blinking light of the Christmas tree, for a miracle twice my size. A miracle of joy. A miracle of peace — one that passes all understanding. I still want to ride the tiny airplanes. The tiny horses. To feel the magic of the season — the magic of being small.


Wagons filled.

It wasn’t a recognized brand name. The only “flying” it did was behind me as I ran. But I loved that wagon. It carried everything that was important to me. As red as I imagined my heart to be, I filled it with stuffed animals and baby dolls. I put a blanket down first so their backsides didn’t turn orange. Yes, it was rusted, but not through. It was strong. Carrying every dream that I imagined for myself, and all those I pulled behind. 

They were bounced over gravel day after summer day. To the circus and picnics. To schools and playgrounds. To airplanes. To malls. To weddings. To the future. Anything, anywhere I could imagine. My fingers gripped the handle. My heart gripped the possibilities. I had everything. 

I will admit in recent days, I have felt that if I were to touch my heart, my hand would come back orange. Tear-rusted. And it might be true. But I don’t love it any less. I don’t want to love anything less, or anyone less. So I feel it. Embrace it. And hang on! Because now is the time for more. More feelings. More dreaming. More possibilities. More love. Heart wagons filled and racing behind legs of youth. Forever with me. With us. As long as we hold on.

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Sweet seasons.

Maybe he was more aware of how little time there actually was…maybe all farmers are, as they watch and work the seasons. Or maybe he was just smarter than the rest of us, but my grandfather did not suffer fools. He just didn’t want to hear it. He had no time for the whining… the “but he got to do it” or “it’s just not fair”…  No, he would have none of it. Even when what we were battling was not each other, but something deep inside ourselves, the answer was always the same – “Focus on something else. Focus on someone else.” 

And it has always worked. Which is why it is so surprising to me, with this 100% effectiveness, I have had to learn this lesson again and again and again. Yesterday I was having a bit of a melt down, and I’m being generous. It was not pretty. All morning long. By the afternoon, even I was tired of hearing the voices in my head. So I changed them. Focus on something else. Someone else. That something was going to be cookies. That someone was going to be my mother in law. Because even nearing a century old, she still loves sugar. 

The signs were there – as I suppose they always are. Two cups of butter. That’s a lot of butter. Of course there was going to be a lot of dough. But I mixed up the recipe. Filled my mixing bowl to the rim. Made my tester cookie. Perfect. Hurray. Soon the voices in my head were silenced by a layer of flour. Roll. Cut. Bake. Roll. Cut. Bake. There were so many cookies. And then the frosting. It was hours. By the end I was exhausted. And lighter. And happy. 

Today we will deliver the cookies — sugar and lessons in tow. The seasons of both are so very sweet.

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In a moment of happiness.

The kids and I played a game last night. Well, game is a funny word – no winners or losers, wait – I guess all winners. Anyway, we started with a blank piece of paper. One pen. One person started by drawing a line, or a shape. Passed the paper to the next one. They continued. And soon that line turned into something. For instance, a pirate — Jack Sparrow no less. We did this for an hour. Talking. Laughing. Drawing. One scrap of paper. One pen. We had so much fun.

It was not lost on me that about 5 feet away there was the Christmas tree. Gifts piled all around. So many presents. They aren’t up yet. Soon they will be rejoicing, and ripping and laughing for all the new! Before they do, I just want to spend a little more time in the moment. The moment when all it took was a connection. That moment will return. This is what I give thanks for, in the morning calm.

Now, I love a good present. Love to give them. Love to get them. I will soon gush over the purse that I picked out myself and then wrapped and put beneath the tree. But this moment. In the quiet, when I know that I already have everything, this may be the greatest gift of all.

The blessed dawn of Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas! 🎁

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Pull over fantastic!

There is a Prada store alongside the road near Marfa, Texas. Prada Marfa is a permanent sculptural art installation by artists Elmgreen and Dragset. The installation, in the form of a freestanding building—specifically a Prada storefront—was inaugurated on October 1, 2005.

I suppose it can be argued as a statement against consumerism, but that was all lost on me, when we saw it, in this middle of nowhere…the extreme unlikeliness of it all, it just seemed so beautiful.

A picture came up in my photo memories — me, standing in front of a Christmas store window in Paris. That is “pull over to the side of the road” fantastic — the unlikeliness of it all. I mean, I was born in Alexandria, Minnesota! It took me years to see it – but what a gift – to begin there. A gift to begin with (you probably are thinking I would have said “nothing” here) but to begin with desire, hopes and dreams and the belief that if I kept driving, driving through this empty dessert, something magical would happen — and that, is not nothing! That is something! And something magical did happen! Continues to happen! Every day! You just have to be willing to search for it, long and hard, and pull over to enjoy it when it does.

I remember it was an extremely cold day in Paris. The winter winds were blowing. Most people walked with their heads down, bracing the cold and the wind, having seen it all before. But this was Christmastime, in Paris, and I couldn’t keep my head down. I could barely keep my feet on the ground. I stopped in front of each window. Big smiles – the unlikeliness of it all! The magic of this season, this life! I am the Prada store in Marfa. That is my Christmas miracle – every day!

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Acts of light.

I just finished watching the movie Power of the Dog on Netflix. The young cowboys of 1925 worked the cattle farms in the shadow of the mountains. I imagine, without maps, or education, they had no idea what, if anything, existed beyond the giant barrier. “What do you suppose it is?” one asked the other, as the sun lit the mountain.

Emily Dickinson lived all her life in the small town of Amherst, Massachusetts. When she died in 1886, her sister Lavinia found a single box that contained hundreds of poems. In all of them, she envisioned worlds far beyond the apparent simplicity of her daily life — looking for acts of light.

I don’t know if it is luck, chance, fate, that gives us our place in the world. We all begin somewhere, at some time. I guess the key is to be forever curious, no matter where we are, what time we are in. We don’t know what lies ahead. But I’d like to believe it will be forever well lit.

So today, I hang the Christmas lights. I hang the lights to welcome the songs and the gathering. To welcome the questions and the faith. To welcome the joy of the season, and of the coming year. Forever envisioning the worlds within and beyond my simple life. I welcome the comfort, the warmth, the kindness of simple acts of light.