Jodi Hills

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


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The big deal!

I mowed the lawn yesterday. It kind of beat me up. Not because of the wind and sun and pollen. While nature was beckoning with “what’s now!”, my heart was feeling a tug of “what was.” 

It might sound silly, but I wanted to text my mom. I wanted to tell her that I was about to tackle the green giant. She would say, “Oh, be careful,” and “Take some breaks…” She would check to see how I was doing. “Don’t get overheated.” And I would give the “No, don’t worry, I’m fine…” But truth be told, I liked it. Not that I wanted her to worry. (And I’m not sure it was true “worry,” but a concern.) She not only cared, but she cared enough to show it. Just tiny words strung together, but oh, what a big deal!!!

I suppose it’s always a collection of the little things. 

I moved my spring cleaning from outside to inside. Cleaning the cave, I found something small and curious. A jumbled set of tiny paper tags. It was buried in a back drawer of my husband’s storage. Little tiny tags perfect to carry the things I’m grateful for. I began writing. I add something each day. Words like mom and friends and art and books and sun and chance and growth. Just tiny words strung together, to make up this love, this life. 

If you are lucky enough to receive the random text today. The phone call. The email. Answer it. Give it all the love it deserves. These are the big deals!


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Jelly Beans.

We often met in St. Cloud. It was half way for both of us. Just an hour for each. We tried on clothes. Praised our figures. Three-way laughed in mirrors. Had lunch slowly. Splurging with a glass of wine, while going over what we did or didn’t buy. Then lattes at Caribou or Barnes and Noble. And if the season provided, off we went to Walgreens to get the candy of choice, like Jelly Bird Eggs this time of year. 

Loosened, comforted, caffeinated, she headed north and I headed south. It was less than half an hour before I called her at the designated mark on the freeway. Pleasureland. I think they sold motorhomes. I just liked the name. When she picked up her cell phone, I got to say, “I’ve reached Pleasureland.” “I’m still lonesome,” she said. “Me too.” Then I could hear her reach inside the sack of candy. It was glorious how love made sweet and sad the same. 

We lived through it all on that route. I wrote my first book in that car, on that journey. We lived through breakups and family members passing. Weddings. Events to plan for. Outfits to buy for them. We laughed and cried on that freeway. Gathering all of our experiences. And it all got simply blended into love.

I navigate through the laughter and tears now. But daily I hear the call. She’s telling me, “I’ve reached Pleasureland.” My heart, all glorious with love, I reply, “I’m still lonesome.” She replies, “Have a jelly bean.”


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At play.

I’m not sure we ever finished a game. There was softball. And kickball. And kick the can. And freeze tag. Regular Tag. One game morphed into the next in the empty field between our house and Dynda’s. With five girls, the Norton’s made it possible to do almost anything. If they showed up, teams were easily made. And that’s really all any of us had to do — just show up. Balls. Bats. Even bikes waited patiently in the grass, or the curb of the gravel road.

If we did keep some kind of score, it was forgotten. Erased by front stoop calls to dinner, or the dark of night. When I think back, it may be one of the greatest lessons I received in humanity. In love.

As we get older, we think we have to do something – and even worse – do the “right thing.” When someone is going through a difficult period, we struggle. “I don’t know what to say.” “I don’t know what to do.” We search for answers or solutions. But as with most things, we were given the tools from the start. We knew what to do. It turns out, it still holds true. All we have to do is show up. Be there for each other. Forgetting all the scores, remembering only to reach out an imperfect, sweaty, grass stained hand, and just be… together.

My lot is trampled. Sure. Worn even. For this I am blessed. My heart is at play. And I will never finish loving you.


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BFF

Before we knew how long it actually was, and how much we would actually need it, we used to promise it in three little letters – BFF – best friends forever. We wrote it in notes. on plaster casts, in year books…on the palms of our hands, and the seams of our jeans — forever!  

Somewhere along the line, we stopped. Maybe we thought we were too cool. Too smart. Maybe I’ve lived long enough for it to come back in fashion, or maybe I’ve lived long enough that I’m not worried about how it looks. I’m not embarrassed at all to declare my friendships in big bold, heart shaped permanent markers. I know what joy, what life-sustaining gifts you bring to me each day. And I will give thanks – forever!


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True blue.



I got my driver’s license at 16. Not long after, I had a cast on both legs. A full length plaster on my left, from ankle to hip. And on my right from my toes to my knee. I could still walk. A little like Frankenstein. I couldn’t sneak up on anyone, but I kept moving. I could ride my ten speed off-brand bike. I tied a shoe lace around the right pedal to hold my foot in place and rode one legged from Jefferson Street. I could still drive. My mom had a sturdy (even more than we thought) used Chevy Malibu station wagon, in light blue. To get into the driver’s seat, I opened the door wide, lifted my left straight leg, (there was no way to back in) and in one full swoop, I grabbed the steering wheel, slid my left leg under the dash, hoisted myself up by that same light blue wheel, and seated myself at the ready. I’m not saying it was smart, or even legal, but I did it. Somehow we all survived. Me, my mom, and the Blue Chevy.

You never know what will end up supporting you. I suppose it’s the same way with friends. There is no way to anticipate or predict even what you will need. It’s not like you can go to the car dealership and hang from every wheel before you buy the car. But in this life we are gifted by the strength of others. Those beautiful friends who will support you, the full weight of you, when you need them. Without knowledge or permission we grab them by the wheel, and they hold. Some for a lifetime. True blue. I give thanks for them, every day.


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Carry it with you.

I would often receive pictures of men cut out from the Banana Republic catalog with a note, “He’s on order. Feel free to call him dad.” 

I knew my mother’s handwriting. I knew her sense of humor. 

I can’t stop smiling as I read through her journals. 

July 9th, 1992

“I’m still celebrating my birthday. My philosophy is to live life to the fullest. Don’t just taste or sample it – devour it and have a second helping. Love a lot and laugh a lot. (And since I have not done much loving of late — I’m laughing a lot!!!) I hope before I finish this book I’ll be doing both! Just keep reading.”

While painting a series of portraits in France, I knew exactly what to do with the man in the hat. I made a copy and sent it to my mother. “Sorry for the delay. Your order is on its way.” 

Write it. Record it. Memorize it — this soundtrack of laughter with the ones you love. Nothing is lighter than joy. Carry it with you.


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Something close to hope.

I battled my French lesson this morning, word by word, accent by accent. And “they” know when you are struggling — a little prompt comes up — “Even when you make mistakes, you’re still learning.” I smile and pray it is true, with everything I do.

Sometimes I’ll say a few words to a stranger in French, and they will answer in English. “Wow,” I think, “it’s really that obvious?”…as if the crutch of my broken language is dangling from under my arm. If only the real struggles of everyone were that easy to see.

It’s so easy to be unkind. To be impatient. I know it is a lesson, I, we, must work on daily. It’s impossible to see what everyone is going through. The “how are you”s and the “fines” just don’t tell the whole story. The limps of the heart go undetected. So I guess the answer is to just keep trying. Trying each day to be more kind. More empathetic. And even on the days we fail, when others fail, to understand that we are all still learning. Arriving at something close to hope, and beginning our journey again.


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Barely more than air.

It was common knowledge on the playground of Washington Elementary that if you skinned your knee, the immediate solution was just to blow on it. Because the monkey bars, swings, jungle gym, all rested on paved ground, this was an everyday occurance. And it was your truest friends who, when the scraped area was just out of reach, took over the duties, and eased the sting with this balm, barely more than air. 

I want you to know that I felt that yesterday, as you commented again and again with words of love for my mother.. Each letter, each phrase, relieving the pain of my skinned heart. 

We made it through recess together. Limping, hand in sweaty hand, we went back to the classroom with the love and knowledge gained on this sometimes battlefield. It’s comforting to know we can still do that for each other. Thank you, my friends, from the bottom, top and middle, of my ever-healing heart.


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Down a gravel road.

There was a simplicity to friendship, growing up on a gravel road. An afternoon could be filled with one stone and a one mile walk to town. Out of the driveway a mere few steps, I would begin kicking a stone down the road. Small kicks at first. Just in front of me. Then maybe a little harder as confidence increased. Avoiding the ditches. Making bargains with the stone itself — if I make it to Lee’s house without losing the stone, then this will happen, or if I make it to the Lake, for sure this — or maybe even to town, then I could really choose my fate. 

On the best of these days, I would hear running footsteps behind me. A neighbor. Maybe a Norton. A Holte. But always friendly steps. And without question, they would begin helping me kick the stone down the road. They never asked where we were going, or for how long. They never asked why. Just walked beside me. 

To have that clarity is a pure gift. If you have that now, and I can joyfully say that I do, then you have more than a friend, more than even family — perhaps we need a new word for these people — these glorious humans that will just help you get your stone down the road. 

My shoes are dusty. There are no more bargains to be made. Only the journey. The beautiful journey of this gravel road. And I give thanks every day, that I, we, don’t have to make it alone.


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Hand in hand.

I wave to it every day – the Sainte Victoire montagne. Even on the days when the clouds are low, making the mountain almost disappear (which is very rare), I offer my best parade salute, because I know it hasn’t gone anywhere. It is sure, and steady. Beautiful, whether I see it or not.

When I was in the third grade, in the days when an 8 year old could walk unaccompanied through the streets of a small town, we began what we called “Wednesday school.” For those who wanted, you could take the hour or two to walk to your church for religious studies. The church we attended did not offer a class, and wasn’t in town, so I was told I could walk to First Lutheran. I had never been there before. The group of girls that knew the way took off running down the street. I had to go to the bathroom. I was sure I could catch up. But when I opened the front door of Washington Elementary, they were gone. Never was the speed of youth so prevalent. I started walking. I got to Broadway. Looked left. No one. Looked right – only Big Ole, the statue that claimed America’s birthright. I crossed the street. It’s funny how my heart began to beat faster, but my feet were moving slower. I turned left. Then maybe right. Sweating. No longer moving in one direction or the other, only spinning. I called out to no one. And that’s who answered. I bent down to grab my knees. I pretended to be tying my shoelaces, but really it was the only way I knew to give myself a hug. I breathed in the slowness and certainty of the path that got me here, and I started walking back. There was Broadway. There was Big Ole. Still there. My heart started to calm. I crossed the street and opened the big wooden doors. Walked up the terrazzo stairs to my classroom. The door was closed. Gerald Reed was sitting alone beside the door. I waved, and smiled at his familiar face. I sat down beside him. Neither one of us asked why we were there. Our hands were right beside each other on the floor. I don’t know if he took mine, or I took his, but we sat quietly, together, hand in hand, until the others returned. Acceptance, without question. We had received maybe the best lesson after all.

I don’t know what today will bring, but I wake and wave joyfully at all that is seen and unseen, because I still believe in the beauty, the goodness that rests just within reach.