Jodi Hills

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


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Louder.

I didn’t say hardly anything from the 1st grade until 5th grade. I suppose I was a little afraid — but I think it was more that I was finding my voice. Listening. Gathering. Learning. Confidence fueled by friendship, in the 5th grade teamroom of Washington Elementary, I started to find it — this voice.

Barb, Lori, Wendy and I went into the janitor’s closet just across from our classroom. Sitting against the mops and buckets, we laughed and encouraged and talked. And talked. Perhaps it was the inspiration of hard work all around us, (for it is work), we gained the confidence of “something to say!” We were studying school safety, so the four of us decided to put on a play. Oh, the confidence of gathered youth! Of course we did! I went straight from “mouth closed” to “center stage.” They clapped for us, and we clapped for ourselves. What joy, this confidence. My tiny voice inside of me was getting louder and louder.

Every morning, in France, I go to my new “janitor’s closet” to work on my French. It is terrifying to raise my voice here. I don’t yet have the confidence of my 5th grade self. But each day, with a new word, I speak a little louder. Sometimes at the breakfast table. (where sometimes my husband claps for me). At the grocery store (where I sometimes clap for myself). And slowly it comes.

We will be challenged every day. From language to health. Relationships. Struggles. And we will be asked to do the work. Some days will always be easier than others. But on the hardest ones, I must think back to my blossoming self. How excited I was to dare — dare to find my voice — My self! How excited I was to say, Listen up world, my voice is getting louder and louder.

Today, surround yourself with those who will applaud your attempt! Dare to join in the clapping. Join the conversation of this wonderful life!


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Acts of light.

I just finished watching the movie Power of the Dog on Netflix. The young cowboys of 1925 worked the cattle farms in the shadow of the mountains. I imagine, without maps, or education, they had no idea what, if anything, existed beyond the giant barrier. “What do you suppose it is?” one asked the other, as the sun lit the mountain.

Emily Dickinson lived all her life in the small town of Amherst, Massachusetts. When she died in 1886, her sister Lavinia found a single box that contained hundreds of poems. In all of them, she envisioned worlds far beyond the apparent simplicity of her daily life — looking for acts of light.

I don’t know if it is luck, chance, fate, that gives us our place in the world. We all begin somewhere, at some time. I guess the key is to be forever curious, no matter where we are, what time we are in. We don’t know what lies ahead. But I’d like to believe it will be forever well lit.

So today, I hang the Christmas lights. I hang the lights to welcome the songs and the gathering. To welcome the questions and the faith. To welcome the joy of the season, and of the coming year. Forever envisioning the worlds within and beyond my simple life. I welcome the comfort, the warmth, the kindness of simple acts of light.


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Unshackled.

It’s funny how we can all be looking at the same thing, and see something so different. When for each of us, I suppose, it is so clear, so very, very clear. But maybe it’s so clear, that it’s invisible.

We will never all have the same vision. And we shouldn’t. We need the open eyes and hearts of everyone to make this world interesting. Beautiful. Sometimes we will agree. Sometimes we won’t. But I think the key is to know why we are choosing to see what we see. Am I looking out of love, or out of fear? Am I blocking the path for others, or clearing a way? Do I really have the whole picture?

We were driving along the Mediterranean and Dominique pointed out an island. It seemed pretty close. If I opened the car window, I thought, I could just reach out… He told me it was two miles away. I saw a few swimmers braving the cooler temperatures and thought that island must seem an eternity away, if even visible from behind each wave. Same island. Different perspective.

We are all looking. Seeking. Wondering. There is so much to see. And we all want to be free to see it in our own way. But to truly be free, we have to learn. We have to understand that while some of us are on the open road, others are fighting a continuous wave. All to get to the same place of joy. The same place of understanding.

I guess the answer is to seek wisdom. Find grace. Teach. Reveal. Oh, education, the great unshackling! Free from our own ignorance, then, I imagine… oh, the things I imagine!!!! It’s so beautiful! Can you see it?


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Delightful.

I picked up an old sketchbook this morning. One I was making a few years ago while traveling in the southern part of the US. We stopped in a store in Mississippi. It was filled with home goods. I was admiring some material between thumb and index finger. The clerk, with great pleasure, not knowing me, nor where I lived, said, “These tablecloths are so French, you can’t even find them in France!” Even as I type this, I’m not really sure what that means, but she said it with such pride, such exuberance, how could I not be delighted as well! Delighted enough to write it in my journal on a January 27th.


Sometimes I think we use the excuses of time, money, location, situation — excuses not to find the joy, the beauty, the magic of the moment. I have been guilty of this for sure. But years ago, I made it my intent to see things. Everything. Everywhere. Anytime. In people. Places. Things. And this intent became habit, and became a life.


I had terrible dreams last night. The kind that want to rattle you through breakfast. But I entered my French kitchen. Heated the croissants. Drank the coffee. Mixed up the bread dough. I love making bread. I love that soon the scent will waft through the halls. Soon we will eat the most delicious bread! Bread so good, so French, it takes an American girl in provence to make it! It doesn’t have to make sense — it’s just delightful!


Let go of the night — any darkness that surrounds you. Enjoy your day!!!


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If I had a hammer…

We visited the home of Thomas Jefferson. I took a picture of his work space on my ipad. I have the same hammer. I use the same hammer. In some ways we have come so far — I don’t know that he ever could have dreamed about an ipad, but he loved learning, progress, so I think he would approve. In other ways, the world hasn’t changed that much. The basics. The hammers. The tools of our daily living. I think the goal is to use what still works, but then keep learning. We have so many more tools at our disposal now. But are we doing better? I want to do better. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I always go back to one of my favorite people, Maya Angelou — she said, “When you know better, you do better.” We can do better. We can pick up the hammers that still work, and build with them, build on them. Use the tools we have today and go further.


It’s easy to type the words. Harder to live them. I know. Yesterday I got clogged in a mess for a couple of hours. I don’t want to give it more time, so I’ll just say, toner. Stupid toner. Stupid printer. My first thought was, “you’re wasting my time!” I said it over and over in my brain. Then it occured to me, that it was actually just me. I was wasting my time. I can do better. Today, I will do better. My hammer still works. My hands still work. My brain still works (well…as it does), and I will build a better today.


Thank you, Thomas. Thank you, Maya! Thank you, new day! Let’s begin!

Watch for this image. It’s going to be the cover of my newest book – a collection of these blogs!


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The fourth R.

In grade school, they called them the three Rs — reading, writing, and arithmetic. We had so much to learn, I guess we never questioned it. Years later, I was talking with a friend about it. He said, “You know, arithmetic doesn’t start with an R…” “Not to mention writing,” I replied. We laughed!

My husband and I love to visit antique stores. Traveling through the US, we get a feel for each part of the country as we thumb through the stories they leave behind. Stories that, if touched, or purchased, become part of ours. I love pins and patches. I fill my jackets. They become roadmaps of our travels. I picked up a high school letter. It was in great condition. The letter R. I held it up to Dominique. “Isn’t it great!” I said.
“What does the R stand for?” he asked. And without missing a beat, he answered his own question — Rtist. We laughed for about 20 minutes as I carried it through the store. Still laughing as I purchased it at the counter. (Still laughing as I type this.) My fourth R! Reading, writing, arithmetic, artist.

I fell in love with Dominique all over again! He knows me. I never question it.

This last trip to Alexandria, I found a plain gray sweatshirt. Yesterday, back in France, in the sewing room with the picture of my Grandma Elsie (a great seamstress), I sewed the R in place. Attached a couple of pins. Added the “tist” to my “R” – and claimed once again, that I am an artist. What a joy! What a relief — to be yourself! To live the vocabulary of your own heart – my wish for you – every day!


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The lightness of now.

I have seen the Berlin Wall in Berlin, and at the University of Virginia in the US. You can learn something everywhere. In the most expected and least expected places, if you are open to seeing it.


At a dinner party, early in my move to France, someone asked me about painting portraits. Was there a difference between the American faces and European faces? What a good question! And yes, there was, I thought. There is. Europeans carry a history that the youth of Americans can’t yet possess. Wars and walls, even though ended, they never really disappear. Their load gets lighter perhaps, but even scattered, they remain.


There is so much to learn and to see. In the faces. The places. The scatterings of others. And I suppose one of the greatest gifts of this time spent learning, is less time spent creating the same mistakes. Wouldn’t that be something! Wouldn’t we all be a little lighter? If all the walls became merely pebbles in learned shoes.


The lightness of knowledge. Of now. What a beautiful reward. Now that’s something to see!


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At the core.

We arrived in this small city. At the visitor’s center, the attendant seemed shocked, not only that we entered, but that anyone did. It soon became clear that we were perhaps her first “customers.” She had long forgotten the facts they must have presented her with upon her hiring. She smiled, and struggled for something to say. When we asked about her city, she began each answer like an unprepared geography student when the teacher gave a pop quiz. “Where are the columns from?” I asked. “I wanna say…” and she paused, clearly searching her brain for something.

Loaded with two maps and no information, we wandered the city. It was functional. One might say even nice, but nothing stood out. Or nothing we could find. The afternoon was underwhelming and left us a bit weary. With one last attempt to save the visit, we walked the streets to find a restaurant. First restaurant, no parking. Second restaurant, no one inside – never a good sign. Third restaurant, ok,let’s give it a try. We ordered, and within a few minutes, a young couple sat down at the bar beside us. He asked politely if they could sit near us. And then thanked us. We already felt better. Polite. Young. Smiling. Maybe this was the city. We began to visit. Was that a custom beer they were drinking? Did they live here? And so it began. Jobs. Life. Travel. Art. Laughter. And here it was. Right next to us. The heart of the city. And the day was not only saved, but enjoyed, greatly.

It’s easy to find the obvious. The Eiffel Tower. The Empire State Building. Sometimes you have to look a little deeper. Go a little deeper. Attractions are everywhere. They don’t all have a brochure, but they can magical just the same. Worth the visit!


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Black barns.

I have never smoked. I don’t really care about tobacco, but I was interested in the black barns of Kentucky. The woman at the tourist office told us they were used for tobacco. The black kept the barn hotter, and helped in curing the tobacco. So many are no longer in use, but I think they are still beautiful. They are so different from the red barns I grew up with.

We stopped at the Muhammad Ali museum in the next leg of this journey. I was never a boxing fan, but I was interested in the man. He was not a perfect human, but I haven’t seen one yet. I do know that he helped raise awareness for Parkinson’s Disease, the Olympics, the Civil Rights movement, and being human. I think that is beautiful.

It’s getting harder and harder to know who and what we are supposed to like anymore. We are constantly being told you can’t like this painter because he said bad things. Can’t like this music because the singer was a drug user. Can’t shop here, they support the wrong ideas. Can’t be friends with them, they voted wrong. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to eat that chicken.

And I want to support the things I believe in. I really do. But I want to know the world. Experience different things. Meet different people. Eat some chicken. So what do I do? What do we do?

If I write about something you aren’t interested in one day, does that negate the 20 other times you laughed or cried when you read my words. I hope not. I hope we can all be open to each other. I hope we can all believe in different things, and still be kind to each other. Walk different paths, and be open. Look differently. Laugh differently. And still believe in love.

I will sketch the black barns. The champion horses. The beautiful losers just wandering the field. And maybe when I get home I will paint the black barn. I don’t think my red barn will mind at all. I want to find the beauty. I think it’s even there in the search. Probably there, most of all.


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Charmed.

I have visited 48 out of 50. (Sorry Alaska and Hawaii) I believe you can find something good everywhere. It takes a little effort, but you can find it. There’s one thing, though, that I believe can’t be faked, and that’s charm. Charm is palpable. When driving into a city, I can almost tell immediately if I would like to stay.

We usually pull into the nearest Starbuck’s for the boost in wi-fi and caffeine. At every Starbucks, I can get a non-fat, extra hot vanilla latte, and it will taste the same, but the experience, no…. In some states, cities, there are people with charm. I’ve tried to put my finger on why, and I’ve come up with a few possible answers. People in these cities have similar qualities – they are proud of their city, and interested in where you have come from. I guess this is education, and curiosity. This beams from their faces, welcomes you, and you can really feel it. The people who are curious, light up when we say we have come from France. “WOW!” they say. (And it deserves a wow – we’ve come a long way!). The educated know about their city. Big or small. They can lead you to the interesting and photo worthy. These people make travel exciting. Exhilarating. They inspire!

A couple of days ago we pulled into a city (I won’t say the name. I don’t want to offend.) Inside the Starbucks I gave my order to dead eyes – and they got the order wrong. I explained the order again to dead eyes. I asked about the area. Nothing. Nothing from the six eyes that looked back at me. Nothing when I mentioned France. Nothing when I asked about their city – in fact they said go to the next city. This made me sad. Made me want to leave. We did leave, soon after.

This is rare, but devastating. Not for us really, we have a ticket out, but for them. What do you have to live for if you don’t like where you are, and you don’t care about what else is out there? Now some may say, well that’s not fair, maybe they’re poor. And I understand that, but it’s not only about that. I’ve been poor. Very poor. And we have visited poor, and have been charmed. A couple of years ago we stopped into the smallest town in Arkansas. One store. It had coffee, candy, some groceries. The sign on the door said he would be back in a few minutes. We waited. He was. “So sorry,” he said while arriving. “I had to go to the doctor.” We smiled. No worries. “Where you from?” “France.” “Wow!” He said. Giving us free coffee. A free magnet – a razorback from his beloved state. He was happy and welcoming. We spoke of his little town, his health, his interests, our travels, and I will never forget this charming man, in this yes, charming place.

If the goal is to live a charmed life, and for me I think it is, then open your mind and your heart. Learn everything you can. Be curious about everything. Everyone. The world is a magical place. People can be delightful. Life can be beautiful. Everywhere.