Jodi Hills

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


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Wearing my world.

I bought them at Ragstock in Minneapolis. A midnight-lake blue pair of corduroys. They are soft, sure. Great fit, yes. But why did I love them so? I mean, I woke up thinking about them. Excited to put them on. Even for me, that’s a bit much.

Yesterday, in a half run, eager to get into the studio to work on my current painting, it occured to me. I’ve had these pants before.

I was in the 5th grade. Herberger’s was still downtown, not at the mall. My mom bought this pair of pants for me. It was the end of the season sale. Summer was about to begin. No one wanted corduroys. Up until then, I hadn’t really thought about fashion. But there was something about these pants. The color of Lake Latoka after sunset. I looked at the tag. There was a big red slash. And I was hopeful. I tried them on. My legs slipped in like water. “They feel like I’m swimming,” I told my mother. Not a big fan of the water, I’m not sure she understood the reference, but she did understand the love of a new garment against your skin. She checked the tag, and smiled. Handed them to the woman behind the counter, who folded them, and put them in a bag, and handed them to my smiling hands. 

I wore them almost every day that summer. These corduroy pants. Even to Valley Fair with my cousins. They couldn’t understand why I would wear such hot pants on a humid summer day. “Maybe she likes them,” my aunt explained. I smiled. That seemed to be enough for them. I didn’t know how to explain that these weren’t just pants, they were a symbol of something bigger. They were a symbol of when I asked for the world, my mom could give it to me. 

I sat in front of my painting, wearing my world. Confident. Vulnerable. Open. I will never let that go.


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Reaching out. Reaching forward.

When searching in the yard for all the tennis balls, (that we use as baseballs, so I, as the pitcher, don’t get killed), the kids found something more. Behind the tool shed, past the wire fence, past the two lines of trees that separate us from our neighbors yard, sat a big dog, eagerly waiting with a yellow ball in his mouth.

I don’t know who hit the ball that far — well, I know it wasn’t Margaux, but there he sat, smiling with his discovery. They reached their hands through the fence. Faces pressed up against the wire to get full arm’s length. He crawled up slowly as if to say it was OK. Released the ball. And one of them threw it back over the trees. We couldn’t see where the ball landed, but the dog knew, and brought it back immediately. And so the unlikely game of fetch began. Through the fence. Through the trees. Over and over. It would be hard to say which side was more delighted.

Children find a way. Perhaps because they are open beyond fences. They see beyond the trees, the obstacles. They find the joy.

It’s easy to get stuck in life’s daily obstacles. Blocked by others. Trapped by our thoughts. But I don’t want to live like that. I want to see all the possibilities. See with the eyes of youth. Not the dim view of experience. Because sometimes, the past is kept well, in the past. And the clear view is led with hearts and hands reaching out, reaching forward. Beyond the fenced fear. Into the bright light of today. Smiling. Eager!


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Sunday. Sun day.

The grandkids now have an exchange student staying with them from Germany. Yesterday, in the afternoon sun, wearing the Minnesota Vikings caps we gave to them, we played our version of baseball in the backyard. Two French kids, one German, one American, wearing football caps, playing baseball in the south of France. Not a bad Sunday afternoon.

When I was in highschool, we called them foreign exchange students — but there was nothing foreign about this kid. He fit right into our cornucopia. After, what I loosely call, “the baseball game,” they wanted to go to my painting studio. He looked at everything. Each painting. Wanted to know the stories behind them. He was thoughtful and interested. After looking, touching, he went to one of the smallest paintings I have, right by the front door. He said with all certainty, “This one is my favorite.” I smiled at Charles, because we knew the story. 

When Charles was very young, he came into my studio. I had just started a new painting, immersed in the blue of a new sky. “But where is the sun?” he asked. I hadn’t gotten to the sun yet, so I told him it was coming. He watched, eagerly. And as it appeared, for one brief moment, I held his sun in my hands. 

“That’s Charles’ Sun,” we both said at the same time. Now, that might seem like a small thing, but it felt like magic. 

Most people gravitate to the largest of my paintings. The grand scene from New York – 8 feet tall. Or the people swimming in a 7′ sea. But this kid, German, but not foreign at all, went directly to Charles’ Sun, and he connected us all. 

It’s easy to find the differences. But really, we all just want a Sunday afternoon. With room to play. Room to grow. To learn. To connect. We can do this. For each other. For our world. We’re holding the sun in our hands.


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Welcome to the garden.

I received this comment yesterday on my post —

“Your mom was the first person I met in Alexandria. She was the receptionist at the school and I was there to interview for a teaching position. She was so warm and welcoming. I have never forgotten her kindness. She is a beautiful lady inside and out.”

I have heard this so many times through the years. She wasn’t just the receptionist for the schools, but for the town of Alexandria. And what a welcome she gave. Even at her lowest times she was a light. Of all the lessons I learned in school, and there were many, this is maybe one of the most important. You get dressed for the day. You carry yourself with grace. With empathy. You do your job. You present your best self. You make the effort. You dig deep — even when you’re not sure if there is any there. You keep digging.

Life is challenging. Daily. And you don’t know what you will meet — who you will meet. For someone, you are going to be the only light they see today. Don’t hide it. Be the one who dares to dig. Who dares to shine. It matters. This is OUR garden.


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Rolling beside you.

There was no registry then. No services. If you babysat, word got around. If parents went out for the evening, and returned to the same amount of children as when they left, it was considered a success, and they passed along your phone number.

And it wasn’t like we as babysitters did any checking on the parents. (Nor did our own parents.) Because strangers paid the most money. Tourists visiting for the summer, could pay up to a dollar an hour. A dollar! Had we even considered the risks, which we didn’t, it would have been worth it.

I can’t believe we weren’t terrified. Getting into the stranger’s car. (Sometimes on the back of a motorcycle.) Only teenagers. Waiting. 2am. 3am. A cat nobody mentioned jumping out of the darkness. Thinking about it now, it sounds like a horror film. But yesterday, as my friends and I reminisced, it became a comedy. Bent over laughing from the mere thought that we got in any car! “Any car!” “For a dollar an hour!”

Once survived, I suppose everything eventually becomes a comedy. And it binds us. That cleansing laughter, that joy that clears a path to the purest part of your heart and soul, maybe this only comes from the ones that really know you. On this path, you can call all those who walk beside you, (and roll beside you) true friends.

Leaving the park the other day, I saw two little girls holding hands. It struck something inside of me. I clasped my two hands together – trying to remember. What did that feel like? I wanted to recreate it. That trust. That beautiful feeling of thinking, this is my friend!!! That feeling that was so powerful, so alive, you just had to grab on to it.

I’m smiling now. Feeling, all of it. Grabbing hold with my chubby little hands. I have such friends. Forever.


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Buoyed.

I could feel our friendship slipping away at Le Homme Dieu beach. We had been best friends. Inseparable really, for the whole school year. Sleep overs every Friday night. A secret language whispered across the desks of the classroom. Navigating through all the changes together. Would it be time to start wearing a training bra? And what were we training for? It was all so exciting. So thrilling. A little terrifying, but we were doing it together.

That summer, she living in Victoria Heights, went swimming at Lake Le Homme Dieu beach. I was a Latoka girl – had been ever since I could ride a bike. It was mid summer when she invited me to a small party, probably birthday, at Le Homme Dieu. My mother dropped me off. There was splashing and high pitched squeals. Water flying. Sand kicked up from heels. The same thing was happing at Latoka, but it felt different. I felt different. They all seemed to be in step. They knew each other’s moves. They had their own water dance. I tried to feel my way into the crowd, timing it, like Double Dutch. I felt like I was tripping. My best friend was making new friends. She fit into a new crowd. I was happy for her, and a bit sad. I didn’t have the word for it then – this melancholy – , but I knew the feeling. I knew the school year would bring changes. We would go in different directions. It had already happened before. A couple of times. Each change survived, and thrived. The newness conquered. Then enjoyed.

Yesterday, I went swimming at that same Le Homme Dieu beach. Just a slight touch of autumn whispered in the air. I was a child again. Buoyed by the same waters of youth. I now live in the French language of this lake. Bigger changes than I ever could have imagined. But life gave me the tools. I suppose it always does.

There is a melancholy in air. I feel it every year. And it doesn’t scare me. I enjoy it actually. Change is going to come, going to be survived, enjoyed even, as we kick up the sand, splash in the water, and navigate life’s dance.


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By name.

Maybe it was because of the pink nose. Maybe my name selection was limited to cartoons. I named him Bozo – the first cow that wasn’t afraid to come to the fence where I stood with fallen green apples.

No cow had come on his own before. I had stood by that electric fence so many times. Afraid one would never come. Afraid one would. And on this day, this beautiful clown came toward me. Lumbering. My heart beat so quickly. My eyes moved from my hand, to the fence, to his face. Then I started to call him by name. “Come, Bozo, come…” The pink of his nose came closer. My hand reached over the fence. I was terrified, or excited – sometimes I think they are the same. I may have closed my eyes when I felt it, the roughness of his tongue that slurped the apple from my hand. “Bozo!” I screamed in delight.

I have always named everything. And everyone. I still do. The trees in our yard. The plants in our house. If I feel the connection, I name it. To be named is to be seen. And we all want that. I can hear Mrs. Bergstrom, my first grade teacher, call out my name — perhaps the first non-family member to do so. I was seen in the world. From that day on, I suppose, I wanted to hear it – my name, again and again. I want to give that gift in return.

So I dare reach over today’s fence, and call to you. I am terrified and excited. It means something. To be vulnerable. Willing. To put ourselves out there. To call each other by name. To really see each other, and connect! To give each other this gift – again and again.


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Language of youth.

“That’s where I went to school,” I said as we drove past Washington Elementary. “Do you want me to tell you every time?” I smiled as asking. (It’s a small town. That could easily happen daily.) “Yes,” he said.

Washington Elementary is now a set of condos. Central Junior High – offices. Jefferson Senior High – gone. I still carry the evidence that it was there. In my heart. In my mind. I hope, in my actions.

There is a universal sound of children on a playground. In every country. It doesn’t matter the language, you understand it when you hear it. Let loose from the weight of the classroom, the laughter and excitement explodes into energy. Through unlocked doors into the open air, this collective sound of belonging, growing, building, LIVING. No burden of trying to understand — they just do — understand that this is their time, their joy, and they are free. It is the cartoon language of youth.

I hear it in France. I heard it yesterday in Alex, as we drove by the condos of my education. Maybe we all want to keep it alive. Hear the sound of possibility. So, I tell my husband every time, and we smile. We hear it. No burden of trying to understand, we just do.

I suppose that’s why I write each day. To keep the language of youth alive for all of us. Can you hear it? Oh, please hear it. If, you like, I’ll tell you again tomorrow — because, my friends, this is our time, our joy — and we must LIVE!


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Welcome to the garden.

Our fruit trees had a bad summer. Wait, that could be a mistake…I don’t know if their summer was good or not… maybe they had a great summer, taking this time off. What I should say is that they didn’t produce any of their usual fruit.  

This winter, there was a sudden warm up, then cold again, and they got very confused. It threw off their timing. And they took the summer off. To regroup.  They are still lovely. They flowered. Greened. Stood tall in the summer sun. Still valuable. Still part of our garden community.  I would, will, never stop loving them. 

Trini Lopez is the name of our lemon tree by the front door. He has yet to produce a lemon, but again, I love him. He greets me every morning by the kitchen window, with a green so full, leaves so hopeful, that I think, I, too, want to grow.  

This patience that I have with our garden, I fear, maybe I’m not that patient with humans. I am quick (I hate to admit) to think people are lazy. But maybe I, we, don’t always know what the person is going through. Maybe they aren’t being lazy at all. Maybe they are recovering from their own difficult winters. Maybe they are slowly, as best they can, growing into themselves. Finding their way to the sun. Maybe they are offering, not the usual gifts, but other ones. Maybe this year’s fruit is a delicate shade. Maybe this year’s fruit is a place to lean on, in the comfort of silence. 

You know that friend, (I hope we all have one), with whom you can sit, without words or entertainment. Just sit in the comfort and safety of their company. I want to be that friend. I want to be as patient with love, with growth, as the trees in our garden. I want to give you (and myself) a chance to grow, or better yet, to just be. To calmly, daily, without demand, or judgement, greet those who dare the morning, and say, “Welcome to the garden.”


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Rock solid.


We always raced toward the stillness. We began at the stairs of my grandparents’ house — 4 or 5 cement steps that led to the door that no one ever used. On your marks, get set… Go! And we were off, my cousins and I, wheeling and willing ourselves to the first base – the giant rock at the end (or beginning) of their driveway. The stone had to be touched, then we made a sharp right to the first apple tree, touching the boards that were hammered into the trunk for stairs . Then came the field. The cow field. We were supposed to touch the nearest cow. This meant you would have to duck under the electric fence, avoid the cow “pies” and dare to get get close enough to touch one of those giant beasts. They, not wanting to play, looked at us with faces that said, move on to the next base. We slightly bent down as we ran near the fence and waved in the direction of a moo, and this satisfied us all. We ran around the back of the house, past the rhubarb in the garden, touched the garage, ran to the barn, touched a tractor, then raced back to the front steps.

The rules were loose. The laughter was free. The races were never won or lost. Perhaps we were just gathering it all in. Each touch preserved in time. I can feel it — all — still. Sometimes I think, how smart we were — to take it all in. I have to will myself to be that smart now. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily race. But I remind myself to take the time to touch it – the stillness around me. I suppose it is there, in this stillness, that we gather in the meaning — the laughter, the love, the rock solid joy of being alive.

Summer is racing towards autumn. I can feel the slight change in the air. We sit on the front steps for a moment. Talk about what a run we had! The slips on corners, and grass stained knees, and we laugh from the lowest parts of our bellies. We look through the corners of eyes and feel the sun… “You wanna go one more time?” Yes! The answer was, and always will be — yes!!!