Jodi Hills

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


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Another rock on the trailer.

I have told the story before — picking rocks in the field with my grandfather on his farm, but sometimes, I, maybe we, need to hear it again, and again. The following is an excerpt from “Something will grow from all this”:

“Each rock seemed to give birth to another. I was so tired. But Grandpa didn’t seem to be. He just kept picking those rocks, one after the other. He seemed to get stronger. There was precision in each movement. I watched carefully. It was like an oil pump that didn’t have a beginning or an end to its motion, but just kept going. I had been throwing the rocks with anger, but he moved them with purpose…and that was the difference. That’s how he could take such a mess and later make something grow out of it. The black that surrounded us would turn to green and gold. It amazed me and I wanted to be a part of it. It was hard, but that was ok. I did want to stay. My lip stopped quivering and I placed another rock on the trailer.”

There are so many challenges. It’s easy to get angry. And that’s ok if it thrusts us into doing the work, but that’s where we always need to get to – the place of doing the work. I have thrown my share of rocks with anger, but I want to move them now – move them with purpose. Make a difference. Make something grow. Just like my grandfather. 

The sun is coming up. It is not the beginning, it is not the end, it is the time to do the glorious and sometimes unglamorous work. I give thanks for the opportunity, smile, and place another rock on the trailer.



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Lucky.

Most of the houses on VanDyke road had screen doors for the summer. There is a freedom in the sound of that screen door gently banging itself shut, because no matter who’s door you were racing through, who’s house you were leaving, you simply ran fearless out into the wild, the wild of a gravel road and more time than our school free minds could imagine… still, we ran, with newly tanned legs, in and out of neighbors’ houses, never looking for cars, or danger of any kind. 

It is something to grow up in a neighborhood. Not just a place where people lived near one another, but a true neighborhood, where you were part of something bigger than yourself. You were part of every home behind each swinging door. You were cared for, and watched over. You were free to roam under every sun, and gathered home each night with your mother’s call from the front stoop. To look, wander, and explore, unafraid, that made us not only rich, but the luckiest kids alive. 

They say if you see a bird looking away from itself, it is a sign of good luck because it means that bird doesn’t feel like it has to protect itself from danger. I suppose that’s what we were — young birds – flitting and flying about Van Dyke Road, never worried, free to look in any direction. 

And then one day, we all flew away, with all of our wildly different high hopes.  

What a gift we were given. These open skies over Van Dyke Road. Sometimes, even now, if the summer breeze gently blows my cares away, I look around without worry, and think, how lucky I was, to learn to fly.


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Family farm.

I don’t remember which pronoun we used. I have to choose one now to write this story, so I will say he, and respectfully hope that that’s correct.

My mother’s cousin was born a female, but lived as a man. Now, see, I’m not even certain that’s the right way to put it, because I’m sure to him, he was born a man, and lived as a man. I want to move beyond my clunky way of describing him and get on to the heart of the story.

This was long before support groups. Long before anyone thought of being politically correct. Long before people spoke of gender. Certainly no one ever heard of fluidity. These were farmers. They spoke of farming.

And he was an excellent farmer. The hardest worker in the family. My mom spoke of how he saved the family farm. I only have one image of him, and that is leaning against the barn. Overalled. Tired — I pray from working.

I was too young to judge, to be unkind. I hope we all were.

I bring it up because it occurs to me, at some point in our lives, we have all found ourselves, leaning against the family farm, tired, wanting only to be accepted for who we are, the work we have done, praying for the kindness of fresh eyes and open hearts.

Tanned and weathered by the heat of so many summer suns, I stop, under today’s and think, what a glorious time to grow.


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A cow’s shoes.

My grandfather had cows. The herd had to be moved often. He explained that if he didn’t move them out of the grassy field, they would eat until their stomachs exploded. I don’t know if that’s true, or something he told us to keep us quietly watching the herd for hours, just for the chance to see one of them rocket into space.

I remember judging them. How stupid could they be, I thought. I still sometimes do, until mornings like this one. Mornings when I cross the line of just enough lavender honey to make the toast delicious — cross the line into wow, my racing heart and sleeping brain. That was a lot of honey!

It’s these humbling repeated lessons that keep my judgements at bay. (Not as much as I’d like, but I’m working on it.) We never know what the others are going through. And why they are going through it. Why something that is so easy for you is hard for them, and vice versa. I guess the only thing we can do is remember to be kind, to them, and to ourselves, because the roles will continue to reverse from day to day.

I won’t pretend to know what you are going through today. But I will tell you, whatever it is, I care. From the bottom of my honey-filled heart, I do care. And I’ll walk with you to the next field.


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Fake books.

I had no idea. I saw youtube preview on decorating – the ten essential things he said he couldn’t live without. Was I living without? I decided to watch.

The usual suspects. Candles. Sure. Pillows. I’m in. But when he arrived at number four or five, he lost me. He pulled two large books from the bookcase. (You know I love books. I love words. I love anything bound together.) He was so excited — “Look you guys, fake books!” Nothing inside. Empty pages with fancy covers. He explained that you can get them for almost nothing and decorate your shelves. I still can’t believe it, even as I’m typing this. (Typing with the words that mean so much to me.)

Now, I love to “decorate” with books as well. Real books. Books that I have read. Books with words that still hover throughout the house. They have a life. A meaning. Books with paintings. Books with photographs. I love them all. They have an ever giving depth.

I suppose I want this with everything. Everyone. I want books with words. Slow cooked meals. Wine that has aged. And friends with souls. Deep souls. I don’t want fake — anything. 

There is so much pressure to have the best shelves, the most “friends,” the largest group of “followers.” Quantity. Quantity. Quantity. At any price. But as I see it, the only things worth having have to be real. Give me real. I want my shelves to be filled with the stories of life. The real stories. Even mine.

So I offer you this, from my imperfect heart — my pages may be tattered, dog-eared, but they will be filled with life, a real life, a gathering of cherished words. If we offer each other this, maybe life won’t always be pretty, but oh how rich it, we, will be!


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Under today’s sun.

My Grandma Elsie bought the breakfast cereal variety pack. Those animated boxes in every color! OH how we loved them. To reach into the cupboard and choose! This was something! Each box fit perfectly into our palms – already sweaty with the anticipation of sugar. Moons and stars and loops that changed the color of the milk, and our collective heart rates. Our legs fueled, we began the day running. There was so much to see on the farm, and we couldn’t do it fast enough. We didn’t want to miss a minute under the sun.

My cousins and I couldn’t be more different now. Living separate lives, in separate countries even. A variety pack for sure. What a glorious gift to have been given options. Choices. I suppose when you have it, this freedom, it’s easy to forget about it. But I don’t want to take it for granted. So many do not have this luxury. And it is a luxury!

Gratitude’s sweet sugar fills my heart, and I’m still racing. To write the words and paint the painting! To see the day! To live the life! I was given a gift and I don’t want to waste one minute, miss one minute, under today’s sun.


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From a distance.

From a distance.

When painting, from time to time, you need to take a step back. And just look. It always looks different. Or more clear. Same eyes. Different view. So close to the easel, you can miss it. Only in stepping back, taking in the full picture, can you see what’s really happening on the canvas.  Then you can get close again. Change what’s needed. Sometimes it’s just a stroke or two. Other times you really have to paint over what you had — “give up your darlings” as they say — ideas and images that we make so precious, so darling, that we can’t even see the truth of them. It’s easy to think everything we do is right… the only way… but trust me, I have been proven wrong, stroke by stroke. It’s never easy, but it has always been for the better.

Since moving to France, I have begun to see my home town in a whole new light. I guess I had to step back. From here, each blue seems a little bluer, from lake to sky. Nothing was perfect, far from darling. But things needed to be released just the same. I suppose my “darlings” were thinking that everyone could have been better, should have been better. But I was so close to my own canvas that I couldn’t see them. Maybe they, too, were having their own struggles. Everyone does. Maybe they were doing the best they could do. Maybe we all were. The buoys in the lake, after all, weren’t there just for me. Maybe we were all looking to be saved.

I am reminded of a song sung by Bette Midler:

From a distance
The world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white

From a distance
The ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need

And there are no guns,
No bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band

Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

From a distance
You look like my friend
Even though we are at war

From a distance
I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man

It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

I take a step back today, and I see you. Beautiful.


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May Day.

May Day in France is all about two things: muguet, pronounced “moo-gay” (lily of the valley in English) and Labor Day. On the 1st of May friends and family offer each other little sprigs, bouquets or whole plants of lily of the valley for good luck. The more little bell-like flowers the plant has, the better the luck.

We used to make May Day baskets in school. Gifts for our mothers. Construction paper. Scissors. Glue. Making them was not that hard. We had cut and pasted so many times before, and in the security of our desks and under the watchful eye of our teacher, we easily constructed baskets of pink and blue and green. The most difficult part came after the bell rang. Releasing us into the wild. It was a small miracle if your fragile basket of May could survive the bus ride home. 

I would cup the basket like a baby bird in one hand, and straight- arm my other to protect it.  Bus fumes. The wind through the windows. Wild boys. Sick girls. Anything could destroy my tiny little basket. With my sweaty, nervous legs stuck to the fake green leather bus seat, I guarded my mother’s gift with my whole heart. I suppose I’m still doing that. I always will.

Today we will bring flowers to Dominique’s mother. Tiny little bells of luck. Fragile symbols of hope and care. Giving this to each other, probably our most important work of all. Happy Labor day!


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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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Full bloom.

I know we could have purchased tulips, but they brought these to us, from Amsterdam. Native tulip bulbs. Spectacular. We dug little rows in the ground with the tiny rake and shovel from our greenhouse. Of course I was smiling, not just because of the gifted tulips, but because I had been here before, in the spring of kindness.

I was five when I saw it wrapped in the garage. Easter morning. Not chocolate, or a bunny of any kind, but a tiny set of garden tools, just my size. In the brightest of colors. A green shovel. A red hoe and a yellow rake. Colors so shiny, they were spring itself. They were bright and simple. 

Not all the days to follow would be like this. Something in my heart told me to hang on. Something in my heart told me that this is what would carry me — moments of kindness. The shiny moments of people who care, and dare to show it.

We placed the bulbs in the ground. Four to five weeks it said on the box from Holland – that’s how long it would take. I laughed to myself, knowing, in my heart, they were already in full bloom — the spring of kindness.