Jodi Hills

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


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Come in, you and your heart sit down.

For many it is a tradition to drive around neighborhoods to look at all the houses lit up for Christmas. That’s fun, I suppose, but for me, I looked at it a little differently. I was never so much in search of the light, but the warmth.

Since giving up our home when I was a little girl, I began the search. I would walk by. Bicycle by. Look at the homes. Wondering what they were doing inside. How did it feel? What was it like to be gathered in? Wrapped inside the warmth. Not the heat, nor the light. For it wasn’t about that. It could be a summer’s day, and I would search for the warmth.

What was that warmth? If I had to give it a definition I would say the feeling of belonging. The feeling that if you went there, they would not just have to take you in, but delight in it. They would sigh with hearts, that you made it here – home. They would not care how you got there, just that you were there, here, in the warmth of this place.

And so I painted. Houses. A yellow house. A green house. White houses. Doors. Entries. Windows. Shutters. I painted it all. Willing it to life. And I did, you see. I found it in the search. The destination was my heart. (I guess Glinda from the Wizard of Oz was right — “You had the power all along, my dear”)

I still paint the houses, even though I have found my way home. I’m no longer searching, but presenting. Maybe you need to find it too. So I paint them. Again. With a palette that will draw you in. Open arms. No judgements. No restraints. I want everyone to feel that. Not just Christmas in December. Or July. But every day!

Welcome home.


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Grace. For now.

Grace. For now.

I opened the wood filler to repair the corners of the frame. I rolled it around my fingers as instructed and this scent came to life. What is that? I know that smell. And then it took me – one straight shot from the south of France to the New Brighton basement of my aunt in Minnesota. My aunt Karolynn was a hairdresser. She had a full set-up in her basement. And by full set-up, I mean a chair, a mirror, and a sink. I’m neither ashamed, nor proud, to tell you that she used to, right there in that basement, give my hair a “perm.” (A permanent wave for those under a certain age.) I suppose it was a hairstyle. I suppose it was a trend – this completely unnatural kink of blonde curls. Oh, I wanted it at the time. I really did – along with so many others. Everyone had one. Women and men alike. And that was the smell — the lingering odor of my first lesson in the grace of not getting what you wish for. Yes, I wanted the permanence of this “perm.” I wished my hair would stay this way forever. Thank goodness it didn’t!

Through the years, I know that I have wished, and hoped, even prayed for some things to happen — some things that I was just certain would be great for me — devastated in the moment they didn’t happen — thrilled years later when I see and live the alternative! Relationships, jobs, moves, life… it’s funny how we can be so certain, and so wrong. Be careful what you wish for, they say…and I suppose they are right. But I’m not sorry for the wishing, the trying, the impermanence, the lessons, the growth. How would I know anything if I didn’t stay in motion? And on my way I try to remember that certainty is not the reward — it’s grace through the uncertain times, this is the gift, the only thing to really hold on to.

I repair the damaged frame, knowing that it won’t last forever — knowing that I will make it beautiful for now, and that is enough, more than enough, that is good – always.


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Pulling nails

Yesterday I spent two hours pulling nails and unscrewing screws out of reclaimed wood. I like to call it reclaimed, and not used. Used sounds almost damaged, doesn’t it? Sure it is worn and in need of a little repair, but it has worth. So much worth.


To reclaim, by definition is “to retrieve or recover something previously lost.” This wood may no longer be an armoire, but now it will have new life. It may become the four pieces of wood that support the canvas that proudly displays the portrait of the previously unseen person. There is worth in that! A portrait held in front of the woman who says, “I never saw myself as beautiful, until today.” Now this is the ultimate joy, for me the creator, the wood, the canvas, the paint, the staples, the nails… for we all have a part in it. Even the armoire that no longer exists, lives on in this new face.


If we can see the beauty that comes from each step, and not just the final outcome, then maybe on those days that we are asked to pull the nails, we can still find the joy. There is no doubt you will be asked, for yourself, and for others. You will be asked to be the wood, be the canvas, the paint… and in time, without your knowledge or permission, you will be the one who shines – the face in full claim on the canvas.

So I, we, pull the nails, and reclaim the day.


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Joyfully unprepared.

Yesterday we went to a bookstore for the first time in over a year. How delicious! I had thought all morning, “Today, I want to buy myself a treat.” Now you might think a treat would involve sugar, or chocolate, and it sometimes does, but this time, I wanted a treat to fill my soul.

We only had a few minutes before our meeting, so I circled the wooden table holding the books in English. Each title smiled and reached out its hand. I wanted to bring them all home. I let my fingertips graze the covers. And they stopped. On a sky blue. The color, arresting. The title contained the word Chicago. I was already in flight. Saul Bellow wrote words of praise regarding this author. Saul Bellow – I was back in college, studying literature. The author – a single mother, and I was in Minnesota, with mine.

We had to leave. I purchased the book. Is it risky to buy a book within two minutes? Never hearing of the author? Never hearing of the book? But we had already been on a trip, you see… no longer strangers. In those two minutes, I had been taken on a journey, without even opening a page. The only risk would be to stop now. The book is sitting on my nightstand.

If you’re looking for certainty, living is probably the wrong business to be in. Life is chance. Risk. Stumbles. Unlit paths. But, oh, what a journey! If you take it. If you wait until you’re certain, until you’re prepared (whatever that means)… you won’t do anything.

Nothing prepares you for this day.
Your heart is cracked open.
So you cry.
The world keeps turning.
So you live.
No one tells your heart to stop beating.
So you love!
Nothing prepares you for this beautiful day.

Pull the book of today off the shelf. Open it wide. Dare to fill your soul. Dare to enjoy the ride!


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A place to land.

We never used the front door of my grandparents’ house. Well, not the door, but the small cement staircase in front of it, yes, always. It was a place to rest. We chased round and round the house in our summer worn tennis shoes. (We never played tennis in them.) Not Nikes, or Adidas, but colors. I liked blue. Some of my cousins had white, or black. I didn’t care about the brand, the mark, I only remember asking when trying them on at Iverson’s shoes, “Are they fast?” The answer was always yes, with a smile. And so we raced in white and black and blue streaks around the apple trees. Grass stained and out of breath, we’d flop onto the front stairs, chests heaving with the satisfaction of youth. These stairs contained breath, and lemonade, and watermelon slices, (and black seeds), and the welcome of home.

Yesterday, I framed this painting. Painted on panel, the edges seemed so incomplete. Nowhere for your eye to land. And this painting needed it, a place to land, I suppose just as much as we do. The frame, simple, vintage, does just that. Gives the eye, the brain, the heart, a place to rest. Without it, all the feelings just wander off and get lost. You might not even know that’s what’s happening, but you can feel it.

On my grandparents’ front steps, I don’t suppose I knew exactly what was happening, but I felt it. I felt it as sure as the heat of the summer air. A warmth that would take us through every cold winter that followed. A strength, a solid, that would ground us in every storm. Even just in memory, hold us in the comfort of home.

I smile now, knowing the salesperson at Iverson’s shoes was completely right, those shoes, those summers, were certainly fast!


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In the garden

I used to say that I never needed anything but cement beneath my feet. I said it with certainty. I would only live in the city. Sidewalks and pavement. That’s all I needed. But comfort has a way of packing its bags, never leaving a forwarding address, and one day you find yourself in a different country, mowing the lawn.


We have a very large yard. The french word for yard is jardin, or garden. I like this better. We have a big garden. Yard sounds more like a prison, but in a garden, you can roam and discover. And so I do. It took a minute for me to take in all of the beauty. The birds singing, the flowers blooming, the trees bearing fruit. Butterflies. All that “certainty” I carried for years flew off into the bluest of skies and I discovered a new way to live. Maybe with no certainty at all, but pleasure in this moment. And maybe that’s all we get. Maybe that’s all we need. Not certainty, but truth. A truth as pure and hopeful as children’s summer laughter.


I hear that laughter coming across the trees. I hear it in my heart. Even when I’m on my last leg of pushing that mower across a sea of green that I had once promised never to inhabit. Life changes. Daily. We can either shake our fists in the air, or fold them in thanks. Today, I choose thanks. Thanks for all the uncertainty, the newness, the unstable adventure of just living! Oh, look! The day’s beginning. Let’s enjoy the ride.


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Until today

I’ve never tried charcoal on wood before, until yesterday. I found a piece of wood from an old bureau that was cut apart and in the scrap pile. I sanded it down. Gave a coat of acrylic white, just for a base, and then drew with the charcoal. It went on so smoothly. It was as if the wood wanted it. It welcomed and held the charcoal and the rub of my fingers, like no other material I had used before. It was new and familiar at the same time.


It’s amazing what you can do, what you can learn, just by adding two words to your vocabulary — “until today.” I have never made brioche, until today. I have never seen the sun rise in those colors, until today. I have never dared to ask for it, until today. I never thought I could survive that, until today. I never thought myself capable of letting go, of becoming, until today. I never believed it was possible, until today.


Today is a day to try something new — or even again, for the first time — like love! It just might be strangely brand new and gloriously familiar, all at the same time. Today!


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Two-fer

The parking spaces in France are incredibly small. Whenever we enter a garage we always look for a double opening — or as I like to call it, a two-fer. With a two-fer we have plenty of room to get in and out. No damage to our car, or the ones next to us. No worries. Luxurious. It’s just that little something extra that makes our lives easier, and so much better. Why wouldn’t we always look for that – in everything? Especially with each other. What if we gave this to those around us, the space to move freely, the luxury of no worries, no damage…


I painted a sweet little bird the other day on a panel. It seemed so obvious to paint another one on the other side. Whoever buys this bird – or that one, will get a little something extra — for no other reason than just to feel special.


I hope you can find that space today – that two-fer – in your travels, in your heart.


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In the mood

This morning, the kitchen radio played us into breakfast with Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.” Usually nothing can distract me from my lavender honey, but I had to hear the whole song, start to finish. I was transported back to Jefferson Senior High School. In the band room. Eagerly following the direction of Mr. Bud Christianson, (Christy, as we called him). He had the thickest hair of any human I had ever seen, that waved on his head as sure as the notes on the stand in front of him. He directed us, not with force, but with fun. Every hour in his band room was just that – fun. He’d wiggle and dance up to the podium. We’d seen it every day for three years, yet it still made us smile. He loved music. (And one would have to – really love it – to listen to the way we attempted to play it each day.) But that’s the thing – we played music – it was play. He knew it. We knew it. And it made us love the music, and him even more. We wanted to follow him. 

I can’t imagine the effort it took to contain a roomful of teenagers armed with noisemakers. But he did. When he led us through “In the Mood,” the key was to hold us back, let the song build. And it was exciting. He’d press his hands in a downward motion. Not yet. Still quiet. Wait for it. And we wanted it all the more. Wait. He’d press one hand down, one finger to his lips. And our hearts raced. Release us!  Please, let us go! And then it arrived – Christy through his hands in the air – Baaaam BAAAAAAM!!!!! -we let the notes fly!  What a thrill! Every time. The mood was always music. And we were in it!  I still am!


What a gift he gave us!  We didn’t win any awards. Our only ovations came from our parents, maybe a janitor. Make no mistake though – oh, how we won! I’m still winning. My heart races years later, in a country far away, next to a radio that will never speak Bud Christianson’s name. But I will. Probably for the rest of my life. My shoulders bounce to the beat as I’m typing. Thank you, Christy!


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Lavender honey

It’s getting harder and harder to know who we can like anymore. “Sure he was a good painter, but a bit of a misogynist.” “He could really write, but he killed so many animals.” “Oh, sure, she can sing, but who did she vote for?” “Oh, I loved that movie, but I can’t watch it anymore, that actor… is that even a religion?”

It’s so much to think about. Can we separate? Do we have to? Is it censorship? Oh, my poor head. Sometimes, I just want to enjoy something. For what it is. So this morning, I opened the jar of lavender honey – made by hard working bees, in a sea of lavender, in an unchanging part of Provence. I spread it generously over my homemade bread. Let it sink into the crevices. Took a deep breath of the lavender, closed my eyes, and slowly took a bite. I let it rest on my tongue and carry me to the waving purple fields. Delicious. Pure. Joy. If I could eat an almost perfect poem, written by an almost perfect author, it would be lavender honey. Good morning, assurance.

I guess, for me it’s more than enough. I wake up with the one I love… and lavender honey too.