Jodi Hills

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


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No slip of beauty


I don’t know if she was born with it. Maybe all kids have it, if given the freedom. But she has something – some may call it confidence, or a lack of shame. Maybe it’s a mixture of both, combined with the essence of youth.


She isn’t afraid to try anything. And she isn’t afraid to fail. In fact, she doesn’t see it as failure. She can finish a painting that some may see as juvenile, or crude, but she thinks, “Voila!” – and couldn’t be more proud. She can put on a swimsuit, never giving a thought to her baby fat that still clings around the middle. Not a worry. She’ll even run in her swimsuit – (a nightmare for most of us.). She’ll sing songs with no idea of the lyrics. OUTLOUD! She attempts a new language with no fear of mispronouncing the words – in fact it’s your fault if you don’t understand. She dances. She laughs. She is a super hero!


I don’t what the years will bring. I don’t know what she’ll become. Who she’ll become. I only pray she keeps the tightest hold on this – whatever this is – this confidence, this youth, THIS!


I see it in her, and I can still feel my own. Feel myself flying on my banana seat bike, without boundaries or limitations. Believing! I am so grateful for the reminder she brings. And if she’ll let me, I will help her hold on, hold on with the might of youth, so she’ll never feel the fear that living can bring, the shame in any attempt, the slip of beauty. We need to protect her. Protect THIS! Celebrate THIS! We ARE her, we are THIS!


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Self evident.



The first thing we saw while visiting the home of Thomas Jefferson was a collection of tools. A hammer. It made me smile. You would have thought the Declaration of Independence would be front and center, but it came after. Of course it did. First, there was work to be done. And there still is.

It was, I suppose, self evident that all men were created equal. Yet, they still had slaves. Today, we don’t have slaves, but there is still so much work to do. So the “hammer”, the work, must remain in the foreground. Knowing this, is a start. Maya Angelou always rings in my ear, “When you know better, you do better.” I want to do better – in everything.

I’m working on a collection of my daily blogs. It is entitled, “Pulling Nails.” Each time I make a frame at home in France, I take the reclaimed wood, pull out the nails, sand it, sand it again, and again, cut, strengthen, build something stronger, and it is beautiful. I suppose that has always been my goal. Take what has been given, and make it better. I hope I can do this. I hope we all can do this. Pull the nails and make something beautiful.

Let’s get to work.




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A place for us.

I was working at my desk when he landed on the window sill, just a foot from my shoulder. This magpie seemed to own the whole sky. No worries. He was looking out at the garden, not at me. I watched him. He was so close, but he hadn’t yet turned to see me. When he turned his black and blue head towards me, his mouth, if possible, would have turned into an OH! His neck jerked back, his eyes grew twice their size. What was I doing in his world???? He did a double take, and I was still there. He just couldn’t believe it! He shrugged his wing – he really did, and flew into the endless blue.

We are arrogant to believe this world is only for us. Each bird. Each flower. Has a place. There is room. To fight over the blue above us, the green beneath us, and every color in between… senseless. There is room. A place for us.

They sang it in the song. A time and a place for us:

“Someday, somewhere
We’ll find a new way of living
Will find a way of forgiving
Somewhere
There’s a place for us
Somewhere a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air wait for us
Somewhere
There’s a time for us
Someday there’ll be a time for us
Time together with time to spare
Time to learn, time to care
Someday, somewhere
We’ll find a new way of living
Will find there’s a way of forgiving
Somewhere, somewhere, somewhere
There’s a place for us
A time and a place for us
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there
Somehow, someday, somewhere”

I have to believe it is now. I have to believe it is here.


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Simply. Love.

She was immersed in gray, this young woman on Youtube. I watched her walk by the lake, in the fog, in the drizzle. The sky seemed to seep into the water, barely a difference. And she was so happy! Truly happy! The kind of heart-sighing that breaks into the widest smile of content. And just to confirm it, she said, “I love this weather. I wish I could live in this every day! It’s my favorite!” And I knew she meant it. You can’t fake that kind of happiness. She thought it was absolutely beautiful. She took photos and videos. Gasping in delight.

Normally, I am a person who can’t get enough sun. I feed off of it. I love the colors it creates, in nature, and in my heart. It is a warmth that I crave. But here she was, telling me how beautiful it was, the exact opposite of what I love, and you know, I could start to see it. Yes, it was beautiful. Because now I could see what she sees.

Now, I’m still going to hope for a sunny day. It is, and will always be my favorite. But I can appreciate that she loves what she loves in the very same way that I love what I love. Let’s slow that down a bit. She loves what she loves and it is beautiful. I love what I love, and it, too, is beautiful. That probably works not just for what, but for who…

It’s a pretty big world. Room enough for all kinds of love, I suppose. Maybe we should just let love, simply love.


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Let it be me.

Yesterday, on the way to the mountains, I was sure that I would see beauty. Of course the countryside, the eight colors of green, the old farm houses, the flowers. I knew it would be beautiful. And it was. Hay wrapped in golden bales, against the green – what a color palette! The smell of lavender in the air. It was expected and it didn’t disappoint.

But there was a moment. A gift really. Nature at its finest. Moving rapidly in the car – wait, goats! My husband slowed down. Backed up. The herd rested gently in the shade. Unafraid. They were unafraid I suppose because of what happened next. A large dog, came barreling toward the fence, near our car. I had only rolled down the window to take a picture, but this dog was having none of it. His bark was not just lip service. He wanted us gone. And right now. We eased the car up the road a little bit and this dog continued. Nothing was going to harm his goats. Our car was bigger, faster…didn’t matter. He could withstand – stand up for – anything! How could we not respect that? We took off down the road, rather quickly and that dog ran alongside as fast and as far as the road allowed. It was beautiful. He had a job to do and he did it. But not just that – he did it with all of his heart and capabilities.

Was that love? Empathy? Loyalty? Courage? What did we just see? I know it may sound ordinary, but trust me, it was something! To stand up for someone who doesn’t look like you, talk like you, live like you. That is something! Are we doing that? Are we? I hope so. For those who can’t fight. Who can’t stand. Are we protecting them? Are we giving them a voice? Oh, I hope we are. I want to.

It’s so easy to say “somebody” should do it. Who is this somebody? Let it be me. I do not have the bark, nor certainly the bite, but I have a voice. I have the words and the paint, and the willingness to tell my story, your story, our stories.

One of my greatest joys is when you see yourself in the words and paintings, maybe for the first time, maybe for the only time, but not for the last time. I love it when I hear, “Oh, that is so me!” “Oh, that’s my story!” “Are you sure you aren’t writing about me?” This, I love. This is me, humbly, running down the side of the road, as fast as I possibly can, so you can be seen, protected, valued.

I have certainly at times been the goat. And I’m so thankful for those who would stop at nothing to protect me. What a gift! I saw them today, at the side of the road. My grandfather. My mother. A few dear friends. My husband. What a beautiful gift! I will carry it with me, and try to do the same, as far as the road, this life, will allow!


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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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Joyfully unprepared.

Yesterday we went to a bookstore for the first time in over a year. How delicious! I had thought all morning, “Today, I want to buy myself a treat.” Now you might think a treat would involve sugar, or chocolate, and it sometimes does, but this time, I wanted a treat to fill my soul.

We only had a few minutes before our meeting, so I circled the wooden table holding the books in English. Each title smiled and reached out its hand. I wanted to bring them all home. I let my fingertips graze the covers. And they stopped. On a sky blue. The color, arresting. The title contained the word Chicago. I was already in flight. Saul Bellow wrote words of praise regarding this author. Saul Bellow – I was back in college, studying literature. The author – a single mother, and I was in Minnesota, with mine.

We had to leave. I purchased the book. Is it risky to buy a book within two minutes? Never hearing of the author? Never hearing of the book? But we had already been on a trip, you see… no longer strangers. In those two minutes, I had been taken on a journey, without even opening a page. The only risk would be to stop now. The book is sitting on my nightstand.

If you’re looking for certainty, living is probably the wrong business to be in. Life is chance. Risk. Stumbles. Unlit paths. But, oh, what a journey! If you take it. If you wait until you’re certain, until you’re prepared (whatever that means)… you won’t do anything.

Nothing prepares you for this day.
Your heart is cracked open.
So you cry.
The world keeps turning.
So you live.
No one tells your heart to stop beating.
So you love!
Nothing prepares you for this beautiful day.

Pull the book of today off the shelf. Open it wide. Dare to fill your soul. Dare to enjoy the ride!


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Yellow

For a brief moment when I was a young girl, I had a yellow bedroom. It was all mine. I got to pick out the carpeting and the bedspread. All yellow! It was the most cheerful place in the world. It was my world. Until one day, not long after, I could probably count the sleeps, I came home on my bicycle and there was not just a “for sale” sign next to the driveway, but it was flagged with “sold.” I didn’t know we were moving. I didn’t know the “we” only included my mother and I. The house, my father, the yellow, the cheer — all gone. For a long time I was sad about this. I didn’t want to love things. Afraid to love people, because they, like my father, could leave. They, like my house, my yellow, could be taken away.


But could they, really?


It took a while, as most good things do, but I came to realise, I still have the color yellow. I still love it! I love the cheerfulness. And so I paint it. I paint the lemons and the pears. The suns. They can never be taken away. The yellow on my pants, my canvas, my fingertips, my soul – all mine! Forever. My choice.


I didn’t know that yellow would not only give me joy, but freedom. The song is playing in my head now, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose…” And I don’t – have anything to lose. I am free. Free to love. Free to live. Oh, the yellowness of it all! I grab my brush and smile. I give my heart and beam.


I had a yellow bedroom. That will never again make me sad.


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A change is gonna come


Our nephew turns 16 today. In the US, that means one thing – driver’s license.


The first time I was behind the wheel was when I was 12 years old. My sister had her license and she was driving us out to see my grandma. We were in a more than sensible car (meaning huge) and on equally large, unoccupied, roads that led to the open fields of farms. For the most part, it was safe. She asked me if I wanted to try, (asking in a way that a younger sister couldn’t really refuse.) She pulled over to the gravel shoulder and we switched sides. Gas. Break. Wheel. The essentials were slightly explained. I pushed on the gas slowly. Never had I felt so disconnected. The steering wheel certainly wasn’t connected to the tires. My rubber arms were not connected to the wheel, and my brain seemed to be separated from the whole experience. You know how when you wiggle a jump rope against the ground and it jumps back and forth in a squiggle – that’s how it felt to be driving. I drove for what felt like a lifetime (probably less than half a mile). I was never so happy to see the driveway of my grandparent’s house. I stopped the car. My sister made the turn toward the house. My heart started beating once again.


We didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to. But I must admit there was a tiny spot in my heart that was changing from fear into excitement. I guess that’s what we call growth.


In a few years I would take the classes, behind the wheel and in the classroom. I would be given all the tools I needed to make the transition in my life. To take the steps toward this glorious freedom.


Today, when faced with any new challenge, when I feel the rubber arms and heart of uncertainty, I think of guiding that beast of an Impala along the road, and know that I will be given the tools, the gifts, the lessons, to change fear into life, and keep moving along this exciting path. The state of Minnesota gave me a license to drive. The universe gave me an open road.


Happy Birthday, Oliver! Happy Travels!!!!

(Not the Impala, but I haven’t painted one of those yet. )