Jodi Hills

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


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A tourist in pink.


It’s summer in Aix — our peak tourist season. We were just walking through town – going to Dominique’s dentist appointment. I wanted to feel what they were feeling – the tourists. I started looking around. Wow. It really is beautiful! I took a few pictures. The houses, the churches, the scent of the pink flowers — I saw it all again, for the first time.

We decided to stop at the fish market. We bought some sea bass (loop de mer) for the barbecue. And some vegetables for the plancha. Some rosé wine for the imagination.
We ate slowly in the summer air, and I fell in love, again, for the first time.

The world is pretty extraordinary. But we have to decide to see it, every day. I suppose that’s why I paint. In these moments, I have to forget all the “well, I’ve seen this before…” — all the “it’s just another day…” — forget the noise of “but this… and this.. and my…”. I have to just stop, and see something for the first time. Look at the flower. It’s brand new. It’s waiting just for you. I stop a bit of time, a vacation from my brain, a tourist in pink.





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A look around.

Of course I’m going to finish it. I always do. I never leave a book, just in case… But this will take some effort, this book, because so far, (and I am more than half way into it) I have yet to find a character to empathize with…no one seems real, not to mention likable.  I’m not going to reveal the title, because for you, it might be great. You might relate to one or all of the characters. And that’s for you to decide. 

In any book, I enjoy a flawed character. It’s not like I’m looking for perfection. Because the flaws make people interesting. Human. And that’s what I’m not finding in this book. And maybe that’s on me as well. I have to find a way to see them as human. Part of the journey is up to me. I have to see them.

I suppose that’s the real lesson, isn’t it? I have been proposing this since I wrote my first book, “I am amazed.” I would often take the book to schools and read to the kids, all grades. After reading, I had them do an exercise – pick another student and write down something amazing about them. I encouraged them not to just pick out their friends. And they didn’t. They wrote beautiful things about each other, and their teachers too. They could see each other. One school made a mural of all the attributes and left it up for the school year. They claimed, and I hope it’s true, that bullying decreased, and everyone was just a little more gentle with each other. That is amazing.

So I will finish this book. And I will try harder to empathize with characters not common in my world. I will try to see them. I want to be better at this. Every day. And what if we all did that? Not just with characters in books, but also the ones at the grocery store, the bank, the school, in the car next to us, all the characters who vote and wander, and read, and see us as the different ones. Maybe we all do that for each other. Wouldn’t that be amazing?


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The makers.

Yesterday we went on a mini-adventure. Just an hour from our home. A small village. We wanted to see the local pottery shop. It has been in operation since 1665. Something that has survived that long deserves our attention.  

Along the way, in the countryside, I saw something new. (New to me, clearly very old.) They looked like brick silos. They were to house the pigeons, my husband explained. We discussed the pigeons for many miles. Both in amazement that this was the way they used to get messages from place to place. Pigeons. Messages strapped to them. We complain when the internet is slow. 

Returning home, I sat by the window, looking up pigeons on my computer. I could see our “locals” sitting by the side of the tree. Most of “our” pigeons barely fly anymore. How lazy, I thought, then quickly caught myself as I checked my mail (my email that can arrive almost instantly from another country.)

It’s easy to forget about the makers. Those who crafted things by hand. Came up with solutions to problems. 

We ate our evening meal on the plates we purchased from the potter – the most beautiful plates I have ever seen. Each touched by human hands. Potters. Still making dishes. Not one exactly the same. Beautifully imperfect. 

We have the luxury of so many things – and I use them every day. I love technology. I am so grateful for the ease of everyday living. But I give thanks for those who got us here. And for those who continue to remind us of the journey. The makers. The hands that continue to create. Touch. The parents and grandparents that still carry the stories, messages strapped on hearts and wings. Journeys that deserve our attention — not one exactly the same. Beautifully imperfect.


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Thumbs up.

There is a certain group of people that will forever remain in the Mr. or Mrs. categories for me — my teachers.

As an adult, even becoming friends with some of them, it still seems almost impossible not to refer to them in a proper way. And how lucky, I suppose, that this remains. This simple sign of respect. 

My first gym teacher at Washington Elementary was Mr. Christopherson. His job, I see now, was almost impossible. Rounding up these groups of children, on the brink of Lord of the Flies…so filled with the agony and frustration of grammar and times tables…bursting at the seams of our gym uniforms to release the energy of learning. But somehow he did. Separating us into teams. Arming us with red balls. Allowing us to throw and run and scream and laugh, and sometimes cry. But then, and here comes the amazing part, he had the strength, the respect, to wind us down. Make us pick up the balls. Place them neatly in the ball rack. Stand in line. March to the lavatory. Shower. Change back into our “civilian” clothes. And walk quietly, calmly, (a little lighter of educational worry) single file, back to our classroom . This is something. This is why he will, and should, forever remain “Mr. Christopherson.”

When I became an adult, and would visit my mother for the weekend, I would go out running in the morningtime. And I would see him out there. Even on the coldest of winter days. Well into his later years. Still running. Still fit. Still in charge. Still inspiring. I would see him from a distance. I knew how he ran. I could feel myself pick up my pace a little. Puff up my chest. Run a little taller, straighter, stronger. When we crossed paths, he would smile and give me the thumbs up. Approval. It mattered. It still does. 

Today we say goodbye to this forever Mister. I sit up in my chair. A little straighter. A little stronger. And type the words of thanks.


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A little wild.

Most of the time, we leave the wild flowers in our yard. They seem to thrive outside. On the occasion that I bring one or two inside, I’ve noticed something special about them. Just as if they were outside, when the lights go out and it gets dark, they close up for the evening. When I open up the shutters, letting in the morning light, they open themselves up again. 

At the moment, we have a bouquet of florist lilies received as a gift in our salon, and a couple of wild lilies from the garden. True to form, the wild lilies open and close, and the florist lilies stay open. All are gorgeous. 

I have been guilty throughout the years of trying to be an indoor lily. Thinking I could only be loved if I was like the others. Nature has a way of sorting things out, and I have learned. I’m still learning. There is so much beauty in being yourself. I am not perfect. I may not even always be chosen for the center bouquet, but in my wild and glorious way, I have a place at the table. I am beautiful and I am loved. Please know this. Please learn this, again and again if you have to. The wild lilies know. And as they open and close, it feels like a secret wink in my direction. A wink, to say, “You belong beauty, just stay a little wild.”


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Just breathe.

We knew a little about team work, from playing in school sports, or even gym class, but this was different. We weren’t just working together, “It was more than that,” he said. We had to breathe together. Breathe together? All of us? Was that even possible?

We were just a group of teenagers in a band. We had never heard of breathing exercises. Certainly never heard of yoga. We were preparing for the state high school band tournaments in Minneapolis. Maybe some of us had grand aspirations, but I don’t really think so. We got to get out of school early. Ride a bus to Minneapolis. That was about it. But for some reason he believed in us. Wanted us to believe in ourselves. Reach for something more. And he stood in front of us, with that baton, that wiggle, all that hair, smiling, and we started to believe too.

It was the first time I even brought my clarinet home. Practiced. This was new. For most of us. We were all learning our individual parts, but it wasn’t enough he said. He said we had to be “one.” And the only way we could be “one” was to breathe together. For the first time I listened to my own breath. I was aware of my actions. Aware of the girls on either side of me. The boys behind me. We had different interests. Different skill levels. But we could do this. We could breathe together. We could do this for ourselves. We could be better. And we were. Every day.

That bus ride to the competition was fantastic. We sang. Arm in arm. Shoulder to shoulder. Our instruments snuggly packed in the compartments below. We played better than we ever had. Cohesive. One unit. It sounded beautiful — to us. We didn’t make it past the first round. I don’t suppose that was the ending you imagined. You were expecting some sort of victory. OH, but you see we were victorious. We thought so! And he thought so, our conductor, Mr. Christianson.

On the bus ride home we sang and laughed, still arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, because we had done what we thought impossible. We became one. And that was the victory after all. We were part of something. I can hear a big band song on the radio today, and feel it!. I breathe in, once again, the gift he gave us, the gift we gave ourselves. And I belong.


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Rolling.

I didn’t know my great aunt Ellen very well.  It was clear though, that she was the opposite of my grandmother. In size, weight, humor, and day to day living. She seemed to be afraid of life itself. She was thin as a rail, but watched everything she ate. She didn’t drink coffee, only hot water. She carried what she called a purse-snatchers purse — a decoy, while her important items were stashed in a different location. She also wore extra undergarments, just in case… I was too young to know in case of what.  

I hope there was more to her life than I remember. Otherwise, I’m not sure that she really lived. 

On occasion, my grandmother must have worried. She had nine children. Pick any day, and something had to have gone wrong. John got kicked in the head by a cow. Kay had rheumatic fever. The crops needed rain. But through it all, she never seemed paralyzed by daily fear. She seemed more to be rolling. She was chubby and laughing and  always believed in the good. She died thinking she was just about to win the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. 

I will admit that I get frightened by many things. We all do. But I try to keep rolling, even when my tears are doing the same – I keep rolling. Because I, too, believe in the good. And I don’t want to be paralyzed by fear. I want to be known, always remembered, in full stride, with my purse of youth dangling from my arm. Alive.


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Take care.

It has been extremely warm here. 100 degrees for a few days. (And I love it.) But yesterday, the temperature dropped (please forgive me, my Minnesota friends) to 86. And I have to admit, I felt a little cool. Now, that may sound crazy, and it might well be, but it doesn’t make it any less true.  

I suppose that’s the way it is with all feelings. And I am a “feeler”! But I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Not that I could change it, even if I wanted to.

You feel what you feel. Never in the history of mankind has anyone ever stopped feeling something because someone said, “Don’t feel like that.”  Now, of course, some are misguided, and have arisen from misunderstanding, poor interpretation, or simple fatigue, but still feelings. And the only way that I have found to get through them, past them, is to feel them. Really feel them, and then let them go. A few tears? Sure. A few extra laps in the pool? Yes. More paint on the canvas? Of course. A table set for celebration when it’s only a Tuesday? Why not? 

I know what works for me. And you know what works for you. And amid the “craziness” of it all, we pause and tell each other, “Take care.” As simple as that sounds, it may be the only truth to follow. The truth of our own self care. And we are given the tools – right from birth I think. I recognized mine early. Painting and words and creating, creating, creating. 

What works for me, may not work for you, but you get to decide. You get to decide what comforts  you. What fulfills you. You get to set the bar for yourself. Others’ successes do not hurt you. Be happy for them. Others’ failures do not lift you. They may not even feel they’ve failed. (Oh, feelings!) They get to decide that for themselves – we all do!

The sun is up, and I can feel it coming through the crack of the open window. I smile and whisper, “Take care,” – to my heart, my brain…and to YOU!


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My way.

They said I was “painfully shy” – my grade school teachers. But I wasn’t hiding. I was listening. There was a voice inside that I needed to hear. It was whispering, but I knew it was important. And I couldn’t hear it in the chaos — the running and screaming of youth. So yes, I was quiet. But none of it was painful, not for me.

We all learn and grow in our own ways. The only “right way” is the one you choose for yourself. 

I grew into my voice. My life. My way. I hope I still am, growing. Listening. Watching. And as Frank Sinatra sang at our breakfast table this morning, “not in a shy way…”  “Oh no, no not me,” I AM doing it my way. We smiled and listened, and ate the bread I made with my own hands.

The only thing I really fear is wasting time. And maybe the only way we can waste our time is by trying to live someone else’s life. Trying to live in the chaos of other standards. 

I can feel it when I’m “off.” I’m pretty sure we all can. And it’s usually when the voices of others try to take over the voice that lives within me. But I have found the ways to make it stronger, louder, more clear — with words and paint, and homemade bread. With breakfast conversation and music and love. With the smell of cut wood and grass stained shoes. With an unchartered path, and a hand to hold. This is the song that I’m living. The song that has always lived within. My way.


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Wobble.

I got up early to do my yoga. I brought the mat in another room so I wouldn’t wake up Dominique. Same house. Same routine. Just a new perspective. In this practice, it is necessary to focus on an object to retain your balance in the poses. This morning, my focal point was different. And oh, how I wobbled. What was so different? I know this room. And yet, this slight change completely threw off my balance. I’ll admit I was a bit uncomfortable. Not enough to quit. So I wobbled my way through.

Life changes constantly. We can’t prepare ourselves for everything. That would be impossible. But I think we can teach ourselves, little by little, to feel the discomfort, and work through it. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable. How else would we learn anything? Somewhere along the line, some big voice (maybe television, internet) told us that we have to be “happy” all the time, or we’re not living right. Now, I like happy — who doesn’t? But I also like feeling accomplished. I like feeling challenged. Feeling successful. Vulnerable. Creative. Open. Loved. And with all of these, you’re going to feel a little “wobble.” But this is also, (for me anyway) where the good stuff gets in –sneaks in as I fumble about.

In the last years, almost everything has changed for me. Country. Language. Surroundings. But these were the doors for love. So I opened them. Never have I felt more unbalanced. Never have I felt more loved.

Long before I ever imagined such a change, I wrote in my first book, “I am amazed that you let me fumble along beside you…” Still true — perhaps never more. So don’t be afraid. Wake up. Dare to dream. Dare to try. Dare to love. Dare to wobble.