Jodi Hills

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


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Looking for things to steal.

I guess I’m always looking for things to steal – two petite jars of French honey from First Class, and a glance of the Eiffel Tower through my passenger’s window on the right.

It’s a standing joke I have with friends. They have good taste. And as a compliment, I say if I were a different person, I would totally steal it. I have filled my imaginary bags of loot through the years, and we laugh. But the truth is, I am always trying to take something with me. The funniest line over dinner. Maybe a recipe. That feeling of pure comfort that only comes from true relationships. True hearts. Those moments that you can’t quite put your finger on, but want them never to end. MAGIC. That’s all I’m really trying to steal, a bit of the magic.

We just landed in Paris. My safe is full. Thank you, Mom. Minnesota. Alexandria. Friends. Family. History that begins and begins. Forever thieves of time. Of hearts. You have mine. I carry yours.


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Rolling and tumbling.


It was our first real restaurant date a decade ago. His first time in Minneapolis, he wanted to see the Mississippi River. We sat outside on a sunny day. My heart was all jimbly – that feeling of not falling, but rolling and tumbling into love.

We had been exchanging emails. My first said, “I hope our worlds collide.” I can’t say why I used that word – I had never before. But I did. And he came to Minneapolis from France. We sat by the river at the Wilde Cafe. Eating. Drinking. Rolling. Tumbling. We went inside after eating, to pay and use the restrooms. There was a small table with postcards and advertising. I came out of the bathroom and he was holding one. Smiling like the Cheshire Cat. Across the top of card it said – Collide.

Routines can set in through the years with coffee and croissants. And while they provide comfort, sometimes, you have to take a minute and remember why you started the journey. Why you jumped in, heart first. Sitting in the same place yesterday, I, we, could feel the “wilde”. I loved the restaurant. The coffee. The plated food. Delicious. My city. The city that let me in, and let me go. I loved it more. The sun. The breeze. The river. This man. All knowing my name. My heart. All willing to collide with me – heart to heart. And perhaps even more importantly, willing, joyfully, to keep rolling along beside me.

A new day is beginning. I want to keep that feeling alive. I encourage you to do the same. Taste the coffee. Smile at the sun. Fall in love with your life. And keep rolling.


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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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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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Sketchbook.

You might think it would be the opposite. When painting, there is a looseness, a letting go, that must be learned. (Maybe it’s relearned – children seem to have it, but as they get older, it tightens up — I guess because they (we) become too aware, too concerned and it sucks the life right out of the art — I guess the same could be said about life itself.) 

Through daily practice, I gain the confidence of letting go. Letting go of the worry of perfection, and just allowing the image to come to life. Letting the canvas breathe freely, along with myself.  And the beauty comes, in my humble opinion, not in the exact line, but the movement, the strokes. 

Maybe it’s easier on the canvas, but I want the same for my daily life. To let go of the nagging need to please, to be exact. And it comes, slowly, with daily practice. Each day I can see it a little bit more clearly, the beauty of my imperfect strokes — and I have to let go of those who can’t. I suppose that’s the art of living. And oh, how beautiful it can be.


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Learning to fly.

It was rare for someone not to get smacked in the face with the tethered ball. Yet we played. Again and again on the playground at Washington Elementary. Just a ball, tied to a pole. You hit it and hit it until it couldn’t go around any more. It was a strange way to win or lose, this inability not to be able to play anymore. After the brand name of the ball was imprinted on my face, I would think, you know I could just go to the swings.

Some days I feel like I’m beating the same ball around and around. Trying to learn the same lesson again and again. Then it smacks me in the face, and I realize, “You’ve done this before. You’ve learned this. You can learn it again, and move on.”

Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Tethering ourselves to the negative thoughts that spin round and round. Replaying them until they make an imprint on our hearts and brains. Today, I give you permission, I give myself permission, to just walk away. Try something new. Let yourself be free. Untethered. Maybe today, you try the swings. Maybe today, you learn how to fly.


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Crossing over.

It’s no surprise that I write about my grandparents, my mother, my childhood experiences. The stories, not only on the page, but on the canvas, straight from my heart. It is the most vulnerable, but the most rewarding thing that I do.

I suppose I have been practicing since I was a child. Showing my work, my heart. Building my courage, my strength. More confident in myself, my story. So it came as a bit of a shock when I moved to France and realized I would not only have to start over, but build a bridge, and cross over. A bridge on paper, on canvas, on heart.

I’m not going to say it’s not terrifying, this vulnerability, but when you get something back, oh my, there is nothing like it! Each day when I write these blogs something magical happens. I tell you a bit of my grandmother, and you respond with your memory of yours. Bike for bike, we exchange our stories. Our stumbles on gravel roads and our victories in schools. This is glorious. This is living — this sharing — these connections.

The French, as a whole, are pretty protective of their feelings. They are not fast and loose with praise or compliments. I’m certain that I can be terrifying to them at times, running with arms waving, hugs approaching, feelings everywhere, heart dripping from my sleeve… but it’s the only way I know how to build this bridge, make a connection.

Yesterday, on Instagram, I received a letter from a French woman. She wrote, in French, that her daughter had sent her one of my pieces of art, because it reminded her of her grandmother. She told me that her mother, who has passed on, loved art, but never dared show anyone. She thanked me for the reminder of her mother. How it connected her to her daughter. And wished me well with my art — hoping that I would sell lots of work from my gallery!

This is amazing for two reasons. First, that I read and understood her message, in this new language. This has been a long time coming. And I don’t want to gloss over the victory! Second, that she, this French woman, risked all of her Frenchness and exposed her heart. She dared, as her mother hadn’t… and we connected! For me, (and I hope for her too) this is heart waving fantastic!

I know it’s not easy, this offering of your heart, but oh — OH! — how important it is! If you can, today, offer someone a compliment. Tell a bit of your story. Be vulnerable. Feel everything! Connect. Risk. Build a bridge. DARE to cross over.


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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!!!


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This table is strong.

Some said it was in the way, my grandparents’ kitchen table. But for me, for my mother, it was something to lean on. The stability we craved.

The legs were at an angle, protruding just a little beyond the table top. You could kick it. Bump into it. Throw groceries, suitcases, all of your worries, on top of it. It was never going to crumble.

It took a while for my mother to get her legs beneath her. But she did. Oh how she did! And not just holding her up, but at that slight angle – that confident stride. Maybe they saw it in her first – the people of Alexandria. “Oh, I saw you walking yesterday.” “I see you out walking all the time.” “Aren’t you that lady that I see walking?” And when she answered yes to them, maybe she started to hear it herself. Yes. See it in herself. Yes, I am that lady.

I suppose we all have to become the stability that we crave. Table by table. Step by step. The sun rises with one question, we rise, and say simply, joyfully — Yes!

Whatever you need, this table is strong. Jodi Hills