Jodi Hills

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


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This face.

I went down to the coffee shop in the hotel. About to rattle off my usual order, (I could say it in my sleep), when I looked up to this face behind the counter. This delightfully unusual grin that not only wished you a good day, but almost dared you to have one! I couldn’t help but smile back. Wearing my badge for the New York gift show, he knew I wasn’t a local. I ordered my coffee, and he said I could probably use a big cookie too. “Oh, no thanks” – I was on a tight budget and the New York prices were, well, New York prices! “Oh, look, my hand slipped,” he laughed and put a cookie into a sack and handed it to me with my coffee.


The cookie was, of course, delicious, but it was this random act of kindness that was even more delicious! I tasted it throughout the day. I hope I passed it on to my customers. I think I did.


The next morning I returned. And there was this face again. How could I be so blessed to start my morning with this extra sun? He was weird and wonderful. Had crazy stories to tell. And so did I! I went every morning that week. I could have gotten coffee anywhere. In New York, you could fall over and be at the next coffee shop. But I went back to this face. On the last day of my show, he handed me a large sack of cookies. “Oooooh my hand slipped! Share with your friends,” he said. And I did. I passed them out at the show, and I was a hero.


If you didn’t know the story, you might ask, “Why would you paint this face?” But now you know. And maybe you see this face differently. Maybe you see this face and think he’s beautiful! I do!


What if we took the time to learn each other’s story? What if our hands slipped away from our phones, our distractions, and we took the time to see each other? Wouldn’t that be beautiful? Maybe even delicious?!!!!


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One

She, at the age of ten, already has a vastly greater grasp of the french language than I do. It is humbling for sure, and that’s not a terrible thing, but sometimes I wonder, what do I have to offer if I can’t convey it? Then we go to the studio. My paint. My brushes. My canvas. This is my language. And she wants to learn. I give her a small canvas and ask her what she’d like to paint. Immediately she looks around – at everything I’ve done. (And that’s when I think, I do have something to offer.) The apples. She wants to paint the apples in a bowl. I place that painting in front of her. Tell her to just draw in pencil at first. Give herself a good start. She chooses the paints. We create a palette. Slowly we go through each step. The light. The shading. The mixing. She is interested. Curious. And she is learning. It is a beautiful thing. We are different in age and culture and language and knowledge, but here, we are one heart, one creation, and that is everything.

It’s not easy to come together. Efforts need to be made. Egos must be put aside. We have to be curious. Interested. Yes, it can be difficult, but the rewards — immeasurable. Stop looking for the things that make us different – because you will find them — it’s so easy. Look for the things that can bring us together. And look again. And again. One creation. One heart. Everyone. That’s everything.


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Delicious

It’s natural to want someone to love what you love. Most afternoons, my husband and I enjoy iced vanilla lattes. I love being the barista. I measure, and pour and stir. The color fits perfectly into my most calming palette. It is cool and soothing, and I’ll say it – extremely delicious! I am proud of it. I delight in it. I want to share it!

When she came over in the afternoon, I thought I would surprise her with this tremendous gift. I was sure she would say, “Wow!” as I do every day with each sip. I poured and measured and stirred with anticipation. Upon entering our salon, I offered up my most treasured afternoon delight. “Oh, no…” she waved it off, “I don’t like milk with my coffee.” Oh, no? How could this be? No wow? I hadn’t seen this coming at all. The conversation moved on and I stood motionless with a latte in each hand.

I’ll admit it stung for a minute. I think my first reaction is, you don’t like me? We probably all have that reaction on some level. This is something, I, we, need to get over. We don’t all like the same things. We don’t even like the same people, but we can still come together. We can still enjoy what we enjoy. And let others enjoy what they enjoy. Believe what they believe. Love who they love. We can do this, if we make the effort.

We all enjoyed a day in the sun. In the pool. I roasted marshmallows over an open flame. Some people love them. She did. I don’t really, and yet she still likes me. I smile. We can do this.


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I stand.

I mowed the lawn yesterday. It’s two hours of pushing, seemingly all uphill. It’s not bad at the beginning. I am plugged into a podcast or music, the sun is shining, and my legs are strong, having forgotten about the last mow. About half way through, it gets hotter, my legs get weaker, but I turn up the volume on the music and trudge on. I push and the mower fills with clippings. I stop. I empty the container. (At the start I lift and dump, and eventually near the end, just kick it until the clippings fall into a pile.) I pull the string to restart. Push, kick. Pull. Push, kick pull. I shove my sweaty hair deeper into my hat, tighten my shorts and keep mowing. My shoulders feel hot. My belly feels empty, and I keep pushing. When about 90% finished, I start to think I’m really going to make it. This time I will finish without having to refill the gas tank. I’m sure I mowed much faster this time and I won’t need to refuel. Yes, just a few more times up and back and… chug, chug, stop. Bad words race in my head. I push the mower to the garage. Lift the gas tank, which now weighs more than I do, refill the tank, pull the string. Pull the string again. And again. It starts. I walk it back and finish the mowing. Done. Sweet and glorious done. I walk the mower back to the shed, not kicking out the last clippings, oh, I’ll do that next time… I take off my gloves, my hat, my shoes, sit at the outdoor table and look at my work. It’s beautiful. Has there ever been a greener lawn? Has grass ever looked so inviting? I mean, it is magnificent! Worth every step. I think that people should see this. Maybe we’ll have a barbecue, with family. They’ll ask if I mowed the lawn and I will beam – yes! of course! Take your shoes off, I’ll say. Drink the wine. Feel that carpet of green. Yes, yes, we will celebrate this mow! It is glorious. It is summer! I stand on grass stained legs, and feel lucky, proud even. I mowed the lawn!
I think of my gay friends. Some people wonder, “Why do they have to have a parade?” Why? Why? Think of all they have been through! All the uphill trudging just to be seen. I am ready to throw myself a parade after mowing the lawn. If they had a “green lawn mowing flag” I’d be waving it up and down the streets of Aix en Provence. Yes, I say! Have the parade! Wave those colors! It’s glorious!


I think of my cancer-surviving friends. Some may wonder, “Do they really need to buy the survivor t-shirt?” Do they?????? Yes! Yes, of course they do! And they should. Cover the world in pink and celebrate each glorious survival! Wear the banner proudly! You did survive! How beautiful is that??!!!! Feel the glorious earth of another day under your feet! You did it. You can feel lucky, proud even! You DID survive!


We shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate our victories, our accomplishments. And we must never block the way of others celebrating theirs. You can join in, or not, but clear the way when the flags of joy are raised. Remember in the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout, at the end of the trial, is told “Stand up, your father’s passing…” That’s what I think of – when I see the struggles, the trials, you have endured. For you, (and maybe even me), I have nothing but respect. And so I stand.


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Don’t dig your toes in.

We have become polarized in so many ways the past few years. “But they didn’t vote right.” “They aren’t wearing a mask.” “They’re protesting the wrong way.” “Who do they think they are?” “They can’t be serious!” “It’s just so obvious!!!” Each side certain of their beliefs. And not just certain, planted, stuck.

I started practicing yoga. There is a pose called tree pose. You have to balance on one foot, bringing your other heel half way up that balanced leg. When you feel steady, you can bring your hands to your heart, and eventually make branches by reaching your hands above your head. Tree Pose improves your sense of balance and coordination. Regular practice will improve your focus and your ability to concentrate in all areas of your life, particularly during those times when you might normally feel “off-balance.” This pose has a positive impact on the grace and ease with which you approach all circumstances, even outside of your yoga class.

The yoga instructor I listen to online tells me something every day (and I need to hear it every day). In the middle of the pose, when you might start to wobble, she says, “Don’t dig your toes in the ground, it won’t make it any easier.”

Don’t dig your toes in. I need to hear that. To live that. People will have different opinions. Different likes. Different tastes. And the human reaction is often to fight back immediately, as if the angered certainty will change someone’s mind. It doesn’t.

Instead, I want to focus on my own quiet certainty – my own balance. From my toes to my hands, my hands that gather first at my heart, as they should, then over my head. That quiet balance that works for me. That gives me strength. That gives me peace.

I wiggle my toes, because even in all the uncertainty, life is still fun, life is still filled with grace. Find your balance. Enjoy your day!


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Green apples

I didn’t know apples came in different colors until I visited my grandparents’ farm.  Apples were just red, weren’t they?  The good ones? 
But here they were – so many apples – green apples. Hanging from the trees. Beautiful shades of green. Some with green and pink. Some with green and red. They were so beautiful. Each tree had its own flavor, and each flavor had its own variation. 

We helped my grandmother pick the apples each year. Baskets and baskets of apples from the tree. My grandfather gave the fallen apples to the cows. Because they’re rotten, I thought. I wouldn’t give them something rotten, he assured me. Nothing was wasted. Everything had value. Even me.


George Washinton often referred to his home in Mount Vernon, as his own personal vine and fig.  “May the children…who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

In the shade of green apples, Rueben and Elsie Hvezda created our “own personal vine and fig.” Because of them, I rest there, even today.  

I believe there comes a responsibility with that, the luxury of being well rested. 

Today, take a breath and enjoy that comfort. And then, invite someone in. All must be welcomed.


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Happy little trees.

I recently purchased the pin combination of Bob Ross and his Happy Little Tree.  Bob was known for his program on PBS, The Joy of Painting. When asked about his relaxed and calm approach, he said, “I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, ‘Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.’ That’s for sure. That’s why I paint. It’s because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.”  


I can’t say I’m a huge fan of his painting style, or even his paintings, but I love his attitude, his actual joy of painting. In his world, he would always add happy little trees.  Even just typing it, I smile.  Maybe he isn’t a “master” at painting, but he seems to be one at living.  Some art won’t hang in museums, but it will rest well in your heart.


When I opened the package of the pins, the first name that popped into my head was Don Opsahl.  I hadn’t thought of his name for a long time.  I tried to remember it years ago, but nothing came, and I forgot about him.  He, Mr. Opsahl, was my first grade school art teacher at Washington Elementary. His world smelled thick of color and it was like walking into a cartoon.  I’m not certain of what he taught me.  I don’t even recall knowing if he painted himself.  But what he did was introduce me to was a world of belonging. He opened the door to a space that I so easily slid into. He welcomed me home. Some of the best gifts are unwrapped, day after day, year after year.


I now live in the land of Cezanne.  I have walked through his studio.  I have driven past the house of Picasso. I have visited museums throughout the world with the finest artists. I have wept in front of a Matisse in Paris. Today, with the same reverence, I give thanks for Bob and Don.


The world is filled with people trying to create a better world. Let them rest well in your heart.  


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The good seeds.

Words are like seeds. They all grow. You tell someone something good, and they think about it. They smile. And those seeds are watered. But you must know, the same thing happens when you say something bad. And I’m not sure why, but those seeds, man, do they have the power to grow fast.

You can get yourself so entangled in their stems and leaves and branches, and soon, there you are, just stuck in them. I don’t want you to be be stuck there. I know what they said is hurtful. And it makes me sad…well, truthfully, it makes me angry. And I think maybe you need a little truth now. You need to know that you are really something.

And I’m not going to wasted my time here saying, “Oh, they are just ignorant, or living in fear…” Whatever. What I know for sure is, they are wrong. They are simply wrong.

I know you. I see you. I see your heart. You are beautiful, inside and out. Done. That is the truth. I will never tire of telling you the truth. And I will cut those hurtful words down. I will pull out every weed. You are free. They say the truth will do that, and I guess they are right. You are beautiful. You are bound by nothing. The wonderful thing about good words – the good seeds – you can just let them grow. And on the days that you need a little reminder, there they are – in full bloom. Just like you.


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Play the way you feel.

Today’s subject was obvious. Too obvious. Blowing at furious speeds, seemingly in every direction on my morning walk. The wind. I have written about the wind for years. I know this subject. My first poem framed was this:

It was so windy that day,

I couldn’t stand up straight.

It blew my hair this way and that way,

and sucked the tears right out of my eyes.

It was so windy that day,

I tried to tell you I loved you,

but you couldn’t hear me.

Deaf to my cries, your ears heard a different calling.

It was so windy that day.

On hands and knees I crawled to your side.

I reached up to you, begged you to hang on.

I closed my eyes with visions of our hands joined,

like they were before the storm.

The wind shook my insides, leaving me hollow.

I opened my eyes and you were gone.

It was so windy that day.

What used to blow through me, now gives me wings.

It hangs in my mother’s apartment. I know this wind that beats against my face today. But the podcast I was listening to, told me to do just that — listen.

NPR was reviewing the life of pianist, keyboardist and composer Chick Corea who died last week at the age of 79. To be honest, I recognized the name only because my nephew posted about this loss to the jazz community, to the music world, to his world. My nephew lives in this sound. He listens, he loves, he creates. This is the wind that blows through him, every day.

I guess the only way to really know people is to listen. I want to know him. I want to know my family. I want them to know me. So I listen. The podcast continued and I walked. Corea passes through Latin bands and I walk. Straight-ahead jazz bands, and I walk. Miles Davis joins him, and I keep walking. He plays through Mozart and Monk and I keep walking. I walked much longer than I had planned, because I was now being carried by the music. That is how, I imagine, my nephew Vincent feels, to be carried by the music.

I am not a musician. Oh, I played the clarinet in the high school band and now it serves as eclectic decor in our library, but I don’t live in the music – I live in the paint, the word. But I am not trapped in this world. I am free, and I am lucky to visit all the worlds around me. What a pleasure to travel in another world. Learn a bit of the language. The reviewer said that diversity was Corea’s greatest strength. Maybe that is true for us all.

Play the way you feel, and then listen.