Jodi Hills

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


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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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Next year’s garden.

Maybe there’s only two ways to look at things — there is no point to anything, or there is a point to everything.

I am a bedmaker. Some might ask, “What’s the point? — You’re going to mess it up again tonight.” I understand. But for me, I like a made bed, so I make it. And it matters to me. It starts my day the way I like it. So it goes with everything, I suppose, we either decide that it matters or it doesn’t. And that’s how I fill my day. My time here.

One of my dearest friends is a hospice nurse. She had a patient. A woman. This woman knew what was happening. She was completely aware. Not naive to the very brief time ahead. But one day, when this hospice nurse arrived, the woman was busy. She was planning next year’s garden. What would be planted and where. Seeds. Earth. Growth. All going down on the plan. On the paper. And that’s how they spent their day. Their whole day. Another nurse asked, “Well, is she in complete denial?” “No,” my friend said, “Today she just wanted to spend the day living. Not dying. Doing something she loved.”

I pray I do this every day — spend the day living. So I write the stories. Paint the paintings. Some might ask what’s the point? Did the painting sell? Were the words best sellers? The point is in the doing. The making. The living. And it matters. I have to believe that. So I wake up early, sort through the words — the seeds of my heart — and I plant my garden. Every day.

Here’s to forever gardening.


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Ten thousand and one.

Maybe it’s because the brain and the heart are composed of about seventy percent of it. Or maybe it’s because I grew up in the midst of 10,000 lakes. But I have always been comforted by the water. The color blue.

It feels certain – this color blue. Like the words of a favorite song. Words that come so easily. Without thinking. Rolling gently in. Words that comfort. Caress. Hold. Gather. So I paint it, this song, this color and I am home. 

When I was a young girl, and we lost our home, we (my mother and I) moved to an apartment. And when you lose a home, you don’t just lose the walls — you lose the familiar, the comfort, the neighborhood. You lose the sound of screen doors swinging. Mothers calling kids home for dinner. 

Everything changed. I could no longer identify the cars passing merely by the sound of their tires on the gravel. I couldn’t smell the lake from across the street. I had lost the certainty of “blue.”

And being young, I could only see so far ahead. I believed what was in front of me. I believed there were these 10,000 lakes. No more. I believed there was a home. One home. No more. We were given only so much. 

OH, to be so joyfully wrong! Well, I was right about one thing – we are “given” a finite amount – but that doesn’t mean we can’t go out and get more on our own. Find more. Search. Build. I learned if I wanted to have a home, I had to make one. First in my heart. Then in my head. I needed to feel the water flowing through them both. The cool, comforting blue carried within. This was my home. Is my home. My 10,001. (and counting.) No one can ever take that away.

The world, people, will always throw out limitations. Struggles. It, they, will try to block you, box you in. But you don’t have to be one of them. They can tell you that “you can’t…” “you don’t…” you aren’t…” But listen to the water. It’s still flowing. Softly, gently, telling you, “aaah, but I am!”


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Angel in my hammock.

I come from a long line of fools — and I mean that in the most glorious and optimistic of ways. My grandparents fell for each other, as only fools can, and this I suppose, for me, is where it began. He was a farmer. I guess you have to be a dreamer, a believer, a bit of a fool, to make this your living. To plant something in the dirt. Believe in yourself, the work, the weather. Believe in it enough to turn the dirt into gold. I saw the magic. Year after year. I wanted to live like this. Love like this. In the most daring and foolish of ways. I still do. And it’s not hard to prove my case, as I sit typing this in another country.

I imagine it could all be explained away by angles and geometry, but yesterday, in the shade of the house, under the ever pines, the hammock was a glow. It shone in the most golden light. An angel, I thought. Resting in our hammock. And I smiled.

It’s probably foolish. I hope it is. It’s as foolish as when my mother helped me believe it was possible to carry a dream in your pocket. My foolish pocket, that was, is, always full.

Since I can remember, she told me it was necessary. I don’t know if that’s where my grandfather kept his, in the pocket of his overalls, but I know he carried one — one of these foolish dreams. I know my mother carries one still. When she orders her make-up from Macy’s. Looks at the Sundance catalog to see the next season of fashion. Walks around the building to keep her leg strength up. Reads her devotions to keep her heart strength up. Believes in the light of today. The possibility of tomorrow. Her pockets are full.

So the glowing hammock, for me, is nothing but pure magic. And I’m going to keep believing in it. I’m going to keep planting my words, to see what grows. Keep painting with the belief that you too will see the glow, the dream, the possibility of it all. Our glorious and foolish pockets full, turning each day into gold.


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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.


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The yellow dress.

I certainly didn’t know any artists. No painters. No writers. But I knew I loved both. Still, there was no outlet really. So I tried everything available. Played in the band. Sports. Wore the red and black — our school colors. We were the cardinals. And I blended in. 

It was in college that I began to see the different colors. Of people. Of opportunities. Still uncertain though of how that applied to me. Paths can be followed, or made. And I suppose that’s not a one time decision, but a daily one. A step by step. Because it takes courage — so much courage — to put one foot out, then the other. To shed the colors placed, colors assumed, and replace them with the colors of your heart. 

We went to the Raoul Dufy exhibition yesterday in Aix en provence. (I’m only now imagining the amount of steps it took to get from Alexandria, Minnesota to Aix en provence.) I stood in front of the painting, The Houses in Trouville, Normandy. Immediately I was drawn to the woman in the yellow dress. In a sea of red, black and blue, there she was, all in yellow. And I smiled. I don’t know if she was afraid when she stood in front of her French mirror. If she thought, today I’m going to be brave, I’m going to be different, I’m going to be me… It must have taken courage. And he saw that, Dufy did. And showed it to the world in the most beautiful way. Confirming what I have always thought, hoped for really, that you don’t have to blend to belong.  

We all want to be a part of something. To belong. But that doesn’t mean we have to hide who we are. I, we, belong in the painting, in the big picture. And how beautiful!  

There will always be a part of me that is a cardinal. And I’m proud of it. But I’m not only that. And I’m not only a yellow dress. I will choose my color, my path, daily, and light it up as best I can — hoping maybe, just maybe, it shines a light for you to see — not to find my path, but your own.


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She’s here!

I was at the New York library last night (in my dream). It is so rare that I have a good dream, I must tell you about it. To put it in perspective, if I don’t wake up screaming, it’s a good night. And those bad dreams, they can linger, not just through the morning, but for days. So this dream — this rare and glorious good dream — I put it to words, with hopes that it will linger.

I could smell the wood. And the paper. For me, libraries have always carried the scent of permanence and possibility. In the library was the perfect place for this dream to occur, amid the realm of all things possible. Dominique and I were donating our old books to the librarian. She was kind and grateful and wanted to visit. I told her of my love for books, and that, humbly, I too, was an author. She smiled and said she knew, and pulled out my most recent book, Pulling Nails. I beamed. She asked if I would mind signing a copy for the library. Of course! And maybe one for a fan, she asked. A fan? And then she stepped into the room — this beautiful woman — my grandma! My Grandma Elsie. And she was holding my book. (Tears of tenderness roll down my face as I type.) I was so happy to see her! Dominique look! It’s my Grandma! She held out my book and said, It’s gorgeous! (It’s gorgeous — you have no idea what those words will forever do to my heart!) And in my dream, I knew it was a dream, and I said out loud, …But she’s here! And she was. I can still feel her smiling.

I don’t know what dreams really are. I’m not sure that anyone does. The so-called experts say it means “this”, or “that”, but perhaps they are only as accurate as our local weather reporters making educated guesses. All I know for sure is that this morning the sun is shining and my heart is full — and it is as real as anything could be. I choose to call that love. Love that fills the air with the scent of permanence and possibility — and it IS gorgeous!

Good morning!


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Porches.

I suppose I’ve always been a romantic. I have never experienced a poverty of imagination.

I was often alone as a child. That’s not meant to be sad, and it wasn’t. It gave me time to create. We had a large green lawn on Van Dyke Road. On summer days, I took all of my dolls, stuffed animals, anything that could possibly have a personality, and placed them on the grass. They went to the circus. I tossed them in the air. They hung off branches, and bounced on basketballs. They visited other states and countries, as I walked them all through Hugo’s wheat field behind our house, dragging them in a rusted red wagon. They were rust stained, grass stained, and exhausted. And they were so happy. I suppose by “they” I mean me.

As I read more, learned more, I became more curious. What would it be like there? It must be exciting, I thought. I could hear horns honking in New York. Porches creaking in New England. Beaches in California. Cowboys in the south. And I imagined it all. How the sun felt as it beat against the writer’s shoulders. How the fire crackled with love and gathering. Paint splattered studios and hands. Everything was romantic.

I can still do it. I still do it. But the trick, or the blessing, is to see that romance, in the actual – the everything around you. And I do see it now. Oh, it can get lost, so easily – caught up in the ordinary, or the overwhelming events of life. But then I stop. Breathe. Gather all the romance around me until my chubby, youthful arms are full! Because I AM in love with my bathroom. The candles I light every morning when I take a shower. I adore breakfast with my husband – talking and dabbing every speck of croissant off of the plate, as to not miss a single taste. I am love with the violets and reds and yellows of springtime in Provence. I melt when I hear the birds singing, because I know that I have the paint and the hands, and the time, to capture them on canvas. To carry them with me, like a favorite song. Everything is not too much.

Maybe one of the best gifts that Van Dyke Road gave me was space. It wasn’t crowded. No dream was too big. I filled my heart, my brain, our front lawn, the gravel road, with the romance of all things possible.

The sun is shining – rich with possibility. My heart’s porch is sending you an invitation to the day! Isn’t it romantic?!!!


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Seven or eight good naps.

Certainly I have never been mistaken for normal. But what does that even mean? And should it be something we strive for?

The world is ready at a moment’s notice to tell us what is good. What is beautiful. Right down to the color of the year. Do people actually paint their interiors because they saw a color survey on Instagram? We are bombarded with what we “must have” from Amazon. What everyone is buying from IKEA. Fast fashion from H & M. 

I guess we are filled with this from the day we are born. We are told what is beautiful. What is good. It used to be Norman Rockwell that captured the moment. And if you didn’t have the father at home smoking a pipe by the fireplace, then you weren’t supposed to be happy. You weren’t complete. They showed us in books and on television. If you didn’t drive the right car, or drink the right cola, how could you be happy?  

I gave up those standards long ago – some by choice, others by force, but it all turned out to be a gift. I got to make my own standards. My own happiness. 

We always ask each other in the morning “did you sleep well?” “Why not” is our usual response. We have different sleeping habits, my husband and I, neither “perfect.” Rarely do either of us sleep “all in a row.” And certainly not for eight hours. And I suppose I used to think, well, I must have slept badly. But years ago, I gave that up. Why was it bad? Did I sleep some? Rest some? How do I feel? Fine? Then what was so bad? So when he asked me this morning, “très bien dormi?” I replied, “I had seven or eight really good naps.” 

It’s going to be a great day!


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365 better days.

Practice makes perfect. I guess we heard that in school – though we rarely saw evidence of it. I practiced my clarinet. I missed notes. Often. So did Brenda, beside me. Even Jan, who sat first chair. But oh, how we played! And when our parents stood for us at the end of the spring concert, it was, as they say, perfection.

I went to volleyball practice, daily during the season. We never won a championship. But win or lose, legs stuck to the fake green leather seats of the bus, we sang, “We are the champions!”

I paint in my sketch book every day. I practice. Try new techniques. It doesn’t make me a perfect painter. (I’m not even sure what that would mean.) But it does make me perfectly happy. I feel like I make progress. I feel like I get better. And maybe that’s what the saying should have been all along. Practice makes better.

I have not missed a day writing this blog, not for 365 days. One solid year. That’s a practice. In the play “Rent,” there is a song, “Seasons of love.” In it they sing, “Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes.
How do you measure, measure a year?” I have measured mine in paint strokes, and softball fields, summer vacations and childhood friends. Measured in tears and coffee cups, and hammers and nails, and libraries. In planes and croissants, and hugs, and laughter. Measured in each word I send out to you. Measured in each word you send back to me – and I am better because of it.

The sun is up. I’ve had my croissant with the one I love. Good morning, my beautifully imperfect world! Let’s get to practicing!