Jodi Hills

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


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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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All the places I’ve been, I feel like going home.

For years I searched for “home.” Then I began to write about it. Paint it. And slowly, as most answers come, it became clear that “home,” not unlike “happiness,” was nothing to be found, but created. Continuously. Moment by moment. Bit by bit. So I did. I do.

You may think, oh, that’s too much work… but no, it was a relief. It IS a relief — a relief to stop searching, and just be. I think they both (this home, this happiness) have to be fluid, ever changing. Because everything does change. What made me happy twenty years ago, yesterday, is not the same as today. So I have to change. Grow. Decide even. What gives me joy? What gives me comfort? Right here. Right now. And live in that. And in giving myself the permission, the power, to change, to grow, and to decide, I feel — well, happy — and I can live here (wherever that may be), in this heart, in this moment, and think, this is home.


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“You had me at lavender…”


It’s not like I thought honey came from a plastic bear, but not far.

Yesterday, on our small village tour, we bought some lavender honey. Before living in France, I had never really thought of the magic of bees. Bees. The work. The patience. The craft. Nothing short of magical. How they take, without harming, from their surroundings and create something so fabulous. What a lesson to be learned. I want to be better at this. 

Of course we needed bread for the honey. In the spirit of the bees, I made it. Taking the hours to mix, and wait, and rise, and wait, and roll, and wait, and bake. But the payoff, a house that smells better than any boulangerie…and the taste of bread fresh from the oven! 

This patience is a tricky thing to learn. We always want the answers right away. I am guilty of it for sure. Needing to know all the outcomes. How’s it going to be? I can get so far ahead of myself that I spiral out of the possibility of now. But now I have the lessons of honey. The sweet taste that tells me, relax. You don’t need to know how the magic works, just believe in it, taste it. It’s lavender. Lavender. And for a moment, this moment, I am saved.


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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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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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Joie du jour.

We have a small group of orange lilies that grow wild in our yard, along with large patches of purple irises. They are so beautiful. I love fresh flowers in the house, so one year I cut several bouquets and brought them in. They died almost immediately.

If you know me, you know I love words. There are a few though, that I don’t like hearing — for example, “should have…” — “Oh, you should have done it this way…” (when obviously I didn’t or we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and like Cher and everyone knows, I can’t turn back time.). Or “supposed to” — “You’re supposed to do it like this, because everyone does.” (I learned a long time ago, I am not everyone, nor, really, is anyone.)

We all learn and grow in our way. What if we allowed each other to do this?! What a glorious, colorful, beautiful world this would be.

I step outside this morning into a sea of purple. They are beautiful, just as, and where they are! Good morning, flowers! Good morning all!


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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.


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The unobstructed view.

We pass by the Sainte Victoire mountain almost every day. I can see why artists like Cezanne painted it again and again. Every day it changes colors. The shapes are magnificent from every angle. I want to capture all the variations, but the problem I face is finding the unobstructed view.

There is an angle that is absolutely stunning on the road to Meyreuil. We have pulled over so many times, trying to capture it with different lenses, but something is always in the way. The freeway. The road. The poles – oh, the poles. The poles with their wires. If I want to create the image, I will have to paint it. See beyond the obstructions and paint what I love so dearly.

I’m willing to do that for my art. I hope I’m willing to do that for my life, for the lives of those around me — see beyond the obstructions. And there are many. It’s easy to get lost in the politics, the religion, the language, the color, the age, but I want to see beyond, into the hearts and minds of others, and even myself. Because look, just look at the view, beyond all those poles and wires, it’s pretty amazing! YOU are amazing! Can you see it?!


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Little dancer.

Two weeks ago when we arrived in New Orleans, just before the whirlwind of Mardi Gras had started, we were, for the most part, alone. Proof of this, we walked up to the Cafe du Monde and got an order of beignets in one minute. No line. Delicious in so many ways. We left New Orleans to travel the south, and returned yesterday to the crowds, donned in beads and noise and purples and greens and golds. The line for the Cafe du Monde stretched around the block. We smiled at each other, knowing, that just a moment before, it was ours. We tasted it without the validation of a long line.

While the crowds marched through the French quarter, we took a drive. I’m not sure what led us to the house where Degas lived for a brief time just before Impressionism took hold — I say I’m not sure, but I have a pretty good idea — our hearts usually lead us — maybe it was the French flag, the statue of the little dancer girl — there was no crowd to follow, no line to get in, just the feeling of creation in the air, and we pulled over immediately. This master of fine art, lived here. Here. Maybe it was just a brief moment, but we could feel it. And it was ours.

My grandparents lived in a farm house. No one will line up to see it, but I remember each door. Each entryway. I remember the smell of damp coats hanging. The creaks of the stairs. The sink full of dishes. The sign on the kitchen counter that read, “I should have danced all night.”

My mother will be moving out of her apartment soon. Some will say it was just four walls. But inside it was coffee and conversation. Wine and dreams. Fashion shows and laughter. Tears of tenderness. Home. Here – no crowds, no lines, but with hearts fully validated, oh, how we danced!


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Out of the tree of life.


A red plum in France is called prune rouge. I like the sound of it. Elegant, I think. We have a tree in our front yard. Each year she gives us the most delicious harvest for making jam. It’s my favorite. Of our fruit trees, peach, apricot, cherry (she is yet to produce enough for jam) and plum, the plum, or prune rouge is the most difficult to make into jam because the fruit is very small and the pit is very big, and very attached. But the reward! As the fruit turns from yellow to pink to the most glorious, well rouge, aaah, it is magnificent. And the taste! The taste bursts into Frank Sinatra singing, “Out of the tree of life, I just picked me a plum!”


I heard once, and it took a long time to learn, but I believe it now, “One doesn’t love a home less for having suffered in it…” Things happen. Hurtful things. But I suppose, only where there is love can there be pain. People, places, that you don’t know, that you don’t care about, they can’t hurt you. But they can’t give you anything really. To really love someone, love something, there is always the risk of being hurt, well, more than risk really, you will get hurt. But the reward! When you take that hurt, grab it with both hands, break it apart, tear away the pit of it all, it can transform – you can transform, into something absolutely delicious!


Coming home now, I can see this place for all the rouge it contains. All the gifts it has given me. And I am grateful for it all, the pain, the work, the possibility, the start, and most of all the love! For giving me the lyrics to my song, “Still it’s a real good bet, the best is yet, to come!”