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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Stumbling into joy.

It was no surprise that we stumbled upon the Storybook Sculpture garden in Abilene, Texas. I’ve been trying to get there my whole life. I didn’t know this sculpture garden existed, but storybook land…I stepped foot into it when I was a toddler, grocery shopping with my mother at Olson’s Supermarket, and in many ways, I’ve never left.

The shopping carts were lined up just after the automatic doors, in front of the large front windows. The sunlight seemed to lead directly to the first display of books and magazines. The bottom row, just in reach, was set aglow with Golden Books. And what a perfect name for them – for they were golden — treasure! Less than a dollar each, my mother allowed me to pick out one, not every visit, but quite often. My legs dangling from the silver cart, I held it. Smelled it. Hugged it. Knowing the adventure that would come when it was read to me that evening.

Soon, I no longer fit into the cart, and Mrs. Bergstrom taught us to read in the first grade at Washington Elementary. I picked out the books now by the title, and not just the pictures. I could read them myself, sometimes even before the shopping was done. What a world! Opening golden! I knew I would never leave.

I have traveled around the world. I really believe it has been possible, only because I started in these words, these books, this land where all things were possible. And it all still seems as magical to me as the day I was placed in front of the bottom row of books at Olson’s Supermarket.

I still keep a stack of Golden Books on my bedside table — a reminder to live in the magic, to keep believing, to keep dreaming, keep searching for the daily treasure.

I will be the first to admit, I sometimes wander off the storybook path, and get lost in the worries of the day, but somehow, I always find my way back, stumbling into joy. How golden!


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Klickitat street

It’s no secret that our thoughts control our hands.


My grade school travels were never alone. For a good two years I was accompanied by Beverly Cleary’s kids from Klickitat Street. Cleary was one of my favorite childhood authors. Yesterday, making the blog journey back to my own Klickitat Street (which we named Van Dyke Road), my thoughts were consumed with Beezus and Henry and Ribsy and Ramona.


It wasn’t like I stayed with them all day, but subconsciously, they must have wandered through my head, in their wide-legged, hurried steps of youth, because when I sat down to paint, there she was — slowly emerging with a smile that said, “I knew you’d come back for us.”

Beverly Cleary. Smiling. In the certainty of black and white – the certainty that maybe only lasted those two years I spent with them on Klickitat Street. The certainty I carry with me today when I need sure footing. When I need my thoughts to be pure.


Because our thoughts lead to actions. Have you ever heard yourself say, “I’m just so tired of this… just sick and tired of it all…” What have you claimed? What have you made yourself. You’ve secured that fact that you are sick and you are tired. We become our thoughts. I know only because I do it. We all do it. But when I find myself there, I try to go through my list? My list of haves… my list of blessings… and almost always, those thoughts can magically make the journey from my head to my heart to my hands, and I can walk in a better day. A better day — maybe not perfect — there are so many things out of our control, I know. But I think it’s always a good day if I can take a walk on a path of joy, a path of hope, a path of positive action. Who knows where it may lead? Who will join you?


I give thanks for all the fictional and nonfictional characters — (and yes, please let me be surrounded with the wonderful world of living “characters”!) — they, you, bring me so much joy — a joy that only makes me want to do more – be more — and be better! Today I call you Beverly. Tomorrow, by your name. I will come back for you. Again and again.


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The day.

On the north end of Van Dyke Road, there was an untouched, magical place, we appropriately called “The North End.” It was just past Norton’s house, down the hill. If I were to see the distance now, it would make me laugh. If I were to see what was built there now, it might make me cry. I guess in my 6 year old brain, the magic lived there because it was raw. Anything was possible. Dirt and trees and water and whatever my imagination could bring to life. Each journey down Van Dyke Road on my banana seat bike brought me to someplace new. I lived out the adventures of Nancy Drew, and Ramona “the pest” and Cowboy Sam. I was Laura Ingalls Wilder in search of her Pa. I was Jody Foster in every Disney special. I was and could be anything.


I guess that’s why we called it “The” North End. It was special. It was our only and every. It wasn’t “a” north end – “a” would have meant ordinary – “the” made it something, something special!


We did that a lot, named things for what they were. My grandparents lived not on a farm, but it was “The Farm.” That’s what we called it — “The Farm.” Because it was special, our only and every.


And I needed both, the possibility of The North End, and the assuredness of The Farm.


Today I picked the greenery in the yard for the front entry of the house. It is all special. Because this is The Day we are given. Our only and every, and it is magical. It is raw and open. It is filled with the comfort, and the possibility. It, we, can be anything! Today – The Day!


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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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Looking up

The track meet was nearing the end when the coach approached us on the grass. I had one event to complete, and Colleen was finished for the day. The mile race was coming up and we had an extra space to fill. It didn’t have to be filled of course, but if someone competed in this spot, we were sure to get a point just for completing the race. That point could make a difference on whether or not we won the meet. He was looking at Colleen. She seemed confused, because she had never been a miler. I could feel the inner shaking of her head. It would be really difficult. You need to train for something like that. Just jumping in at the last second would surely be almost impossible. Clearly she wouldn’t win, and probably would be embarrassed. There could even be puking. The coach would never force her to do it, he only asked. She got up. I smiled. I was so proud of her! That’s my brave friend, I thought. There were no real surprises. The other contestants raced out in front of her. She kept running. Her heart and lungs fought for her attention. She kept running. Her legs turned to stone. She kept running. The others finished. She kept running. And running. She could have stepped off the track. No one would have blamed her. But she kept running. She finished. I hope she was proud of herself. I hope I told her just how amazing I thought she was! I can’t tell you if we won the meet. If we had a good season. But I do know this – at sixteen – I witnessed strength. Courage. And pure will. When I saw her going around that track, she wasn’t just running, she was flying, and the most beautiful bird in the sky!


My mom ordered a dress from the Sundance catalog. It should be arriving today. Why is this a significant event? She is currently surrounded by friends and family who are giving up. And she could do the same. Who would blame her? But she keeps believing. She keeps dreaming. She orders the dress and believes in a tomorrow where she looks beautiful! And she will. Because she keeps running. I have never been more proud of her. She will put on that dress of blue and teal and white, and she will be the most beautiful bird flying in the sky!
If you want to believe in miracles, sometimes, you just have to look up!


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What remains

I remember my first blow dryer. It’s easy to do because I got it when I started grade school and brought it with me to college. I wore the name off, but it still worked. I stopped counting after that. It seems I need a new one every few months. Planned Obsolescence – things are built not to last. And it would be easy to become swept up in this trend – (I wish it were only a trend) – but I want things to have value, to last.


It is in our nature to create things that will continue, that will stay, that will survive the beating of time. That’s why they painted on the cave walls, carved statues, built Coliseums. When I visited Rome for the first time, it didn’t take my breath away, it gave me breath – breathed a life into me that I too wanted to create – a life that continues, that matters, that lives. And so I paint, and I write, not that these canvases or books will live forever, but that you will know my heart, and it will help you see your own, and others see theirs. This can last forever.


A few days ago, I posted the blog about picking rock at my grandpa’s farm. Someone shared that post and someone saw that shared post. This stranger shared his story of picking rock, of how he didn’t cry when he hurt his finger on the rocks, how he felt like a man for the first time. He shared his story, and someone else liked it. My story lived again and again.


I can’t change the passing of time, but I can decide what is disposable, and that will never include my heart. That will never include your heart. Pass it on.


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Show your work

When I was in tenth grade at Jefferson Senior High School, I was getting A’s in all of my classes, even math. I loved my English classes, composition, literature, all of it. I loved art and history. I didn’t have the same feeling for math. So when the teacher would say, “show your work,” I wanted to draw a picture of me laying on my bedroom floor crying into an open math book — but I guess that’s not what he meant. Apparently he didn’t understand my struggles because he asked if I wanted to join the math club. There was a club for this torture? No, I assured him that I didn’t want to join.


Every kid questions something in school – “I’ll never use this!!” they claim. (And truth be told, they aren’t always wrong.) But I have to admit that I do use something I learned in all of those required math courses — I learned the value of doing the work, even when I didn’t love it, and most importantly the value of showing my work.


I wasn’t sure what I wanted to “become” in college. I knew I loved writing, and I knew I loved art. But what would I do with that? I didn’t really want to become a professor, and I had no examples, in my circle of people, living creative lives. So at first I tried advertising. That seemed to put some of my skills to use, but I didn’t feel the love – I wasn’t crying on the bedroom floor, but sometimes kneeling…


It all made sense when I combined the two. I started telling stories with each painting. Sometimes a phrase, a word, and even full stories. I began “showing the work.” Each painting was not just the colors, but the life lived behind each color. And that’s what people seemed to gravitate to – the story – the work.


I don’t know why we have to go through all of the things we do. It doesn’t always seem fair, and I’m not sure I believe “there is a reason for everything…” – that maybe is too simple. But I do believe this — we will each spend our time on the floor, questioning, crying, but if we get up — show ourselves that we can in fact do it! — show others that we have in fact done it! — then there is more than just the lesson learned, there is the lesson lived! In my humbly educated opinion, I’d have to say, that is art at its most beautiful!


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A change is gonna come


Our nephew turns 16 today. In the US, that means one thing – driver’s license.


The first time I was behind the wheel was when I was 12 years old. My sister had her license and she was driving us out to see my grandma. We were in a more than sensible car (meaning huge) and on equally large, unoccupied, roads that led to the open fields of farms. For the most part, it was safe. She asked me if I wanted to try, (asking in a way that a younger sister couldn’t really refuse.) She pulled over to the gravel shoulder and we switched sides. Gas. Break. Wheel. The essentials were slightly explained. I pushed on the gas slowly. Never had I felt so disconnected. The steering wheel certainly wasn’t connected to the tires. My rubber arms were not connected to the wheel, and my brain seemed to be separated from the whole experience. You know how when you wiggle a jump rope against the ground and it jumps back and forth in a squiggle – that’s how it felt to be driving. I drove for what felt like a lifetime (probably less than half a mile). I was never so happy to see the driveway of my grandparent’s house. I stopped the car. My sister made the turn toward the house. My heart started beating once again.


We didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to. But I must admit there was a tiny spot in my heart that was changing from fear into excitement. I guess that’s what we call growth.


In a few years I would take the classes, behind the wheel and in the classroom. I would be given all the tools I needed to make the transition in my life. To take the steps toward this glorious freedom.


Today, when faced with any new challenge, when I feel the rubber arms and heart of uncertainty, I think of guiding that beast of an Impala along the road, and know that I will be given the tools, the gifts, the lessons, to change fear into life, and keep moving along this exciting path. The state of Minnesota gave me a license to drive. The universe gave me an open road.


Happy Birthday, Oliver! Happy Travels!!!!

(Not the Impala, but I haven’t painted one of those yet. )


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Give

There was a slowness of time that gathered at the farm. We raced with youthful legs – legs that spun underneath us like on the cartoons – and yet the day seemed to last forever. Legs that carried no weight of worry, but only the sticky pink of dripped watermelon.
My grandfather didn’t play with us. He had work to do. The farm demanded it. And he did it. He didn’t join us for birthday parties. I don’t imagine he ever wrapped a present. But he gave me a gift I still open, almost daily.
He didn’t say much, but when he did, you listened. Pipe in one hand, the other smoothing out the line of his overalls. He spoke slowly. My father was gone. My mother was sad. My legs gave way to the weight of it all. “Focus on someone else,” he said. Someone else??? What was he talking about? My legs couldn’t move. “Give your attention, your time, anything, to someone else. Trust me.”
How did he know? Maybe because he gave his hands to the soil. Maybe because he had nine children. He knew.
I can get overwhelmed. Easily. And it can swallow my attention – me, me, me. And then I remember, I open the gift. That beautiful gift. Focus on something else. Someone else. And I am saved.
My legs are strong today. Strong enough to run beside you under the sun of this possible June day. Strong enough to give.