Jodi Hills

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

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Find the good.

The first set of paper dolls I received was for my 7th birthday from Wendy Schoeneck. My mother had always taught me to smile when receiving a gift. I didn’t know why she had made such a point of it. I suppose up until then, I had always been thrilled with my presents. Wendy was smiling so intently, watching me tear the wrapping paper. So pleased with what was about to be revealed. I scraped the yellowed Scotch tape from the last reluctant piece, only to reveal, to my horror, Buffy and Jody paper dolls. Not only had they spelled my name wrong, but Jody was the boy. I glanced up at my mother. I knew she knew. I guess her constant reminders paid off, because I forced a smile in Wendy’s direction. She couldn’t seem to tell that it was more pain than gratitude.

We played music. Pinned the tail on the donkey. Dropped the clothespins in the bottle. Passed around the presents. Laughed and held sweaty hands in circles. All had been forgotten and forgiven.

One of my presents was a Winnie the Pooh giant story book. We all started to sing the Pooh song, when one of the girls noticed that Winne the Pooh could quickly and easily be translated to Wendy the Pooh. Others joined in. Some giggled. But not Wendy. I knew she felt bad. I opened the box of paper dolls and my mom got out the scissors. We cut out the clothes and quickly forgot about both Poohs. It was a good gift after all. Wendy was smiling. My mom was smiling. And so was I, for real this time.

Sometimes it’s hard to see life’s gifts. They often come ill-wrapped at unwelcomed times. But even the hardest day is kind enough to pass. Find the good. It’s out there.


Love’s evidence.

It’s easy to think it’s beautiful at first glance. The perfection of the unused pastels. Pristine. Untouched. And I will admit I open the box slowly. Remove the padding. And let it sink in, all the possibilities. But for me, this is not the real beauty. No, things have to get messy to become beautiful. The pastels will lose their perfect shape as I stroke them against paper and canvas. The colors will cling to my fingers and get wiped on pants legs and on cheek bones as I bring the painting to life. I’ll be covered in the evidence of creation when I bring the finished product from the studio to the house. Viewing the colors still on my face, my husband will call me a warrior. And I proudly smile, because I am. I joyfully give my all.

I suppose it’s the same with love. With life. Some will never risk getting hurt. Never take a chance on anything. Never using the pastels of their heart. Not me. I want to get in deep. Covered in the evidence of experiencing it all. Even the shattered pastel has the ability to color. To create. To make something beautiful. Your heart is going to feel it, sure…but oh, the colors — the glorious colors of scattered love. It’s not to be missed. 

I wake to this sun, labels peeled, middles cracked, rubbed uneven, and joyfully covered in love’s evidence. It looks like an imperfectly beautiful day.


Something pretty.

I don’t remember ever using the word haul. I suppose I heard it when my grandfather was taking grain to town, but certainly I never used it going to the mall.

It was only by her example that I learned it – the joy of “seeing pretty things.” More times than not, we came home from Viking Plaza (Herberger’s) with our hearts full and our hands empty. She knew the names of everyone, my mom. And she spoke them freely. Joyfully. She knew the layout of the store. What was new. What would be on sale soon. Which coupons could be used on what. Coupons that were often given freely to strangers contemplating the price of a future purchase. She knew which dressing room had the best lighting – the second from the right in the denim section. The laughter we shared on what would have otherwise been a lonely Sunday afternoon, was larger than anything I’ve ever seen on YouTube. I suppose that was our “haul” — this glorious time together — something I carry with me to this day.

I’m not perfect. I too can get caught up in the end result. What will I have to show for it in the end? Painting, not for the pure joy of it, but to have a painting. Yesterday, to break that cycle, I told myself, “Today is just for fun. Nothing to be saved. Gained. Or sold. No rules to be followed. It is a Herberger’s afternoon.” With no plan, I just started to paint. The rain beat against the studio and I painted. The music played. I sang. I laughed. I paused. I painted some more. The hours passed without my knowledge. The sun came out. My heart was full. I walked away from the unfinished canvas.

Sometimes when I’d say “I need to see something pretty,” she would reply, “Look in the mirror.” Today, when I do, seeing her reflection in mine, I know I have forever made my haul.

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My mother’s giggle.

She could keep a secret better than anyone I knew, except for presents. For nearly every birthday present, Christmas present, it went something like this: About two weeks before the event, my mom would ask me, “Do you want to open your present?” “No, I’ll wait,” I replied.

“You could unwrap it and then we could wrap it back up so you could open it again…”

“No, I’ll wait.”

“Do you want to just look at it?”


“What if I just told you what it was?” She grinned.

“How is that different?” I smiled.

After about age seven, I knew the routine. But it was never manufactured. She truly was that excited to give me a present. And that was the ultimate gift, I suppose. Two glorious weeks of taunting excitement! Giggles and anticipation. Pure joy and love! That’s why I never wanted to open it early. I relished the time with my mother.

About two weeks ago, on vacation, I bought my favorite candle. The clerk asked if it was a gift. Yes, I smiled. She put it in a box and tied a bow. I still haven’t opened it. I just need a little more time inside my mother’s giggle.

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Red rubber hearted.

We were the first class of six graders to move to Central Junior High School. The only ones really happy about this were the incoming seventh graders – no longer would they be at the bottom of the hierarchy. Leaving Washington Elementary, we left behind our giant playground. Filled with monkey bars, swing sets, tethered balls, a baseball field, a jungle gym, teeter totters — all which we ruled as 5th graders. Central Junior High had none of it. No playground whatsoever.

There was a small nook between building additions. It was covered with tar. It didn’t take us long to claim it. (Not to mention that no one else wanted it.) We took chalk from the art room and outlined the four squares. Kept a red rubber ball after gym class. We were all set. Four-square. We didn’t just play. We became champions. We had moves. Giant arm swings that would indicate a hard ball on the way, only to tap it slightly with fingertips, leaving the person in the next square open-jawed and back to the end of the line. We made alliances. We laughed. We cheered. We ruled that tiny piece of real estate that few even knew existed. 

We heard the rumors. Sure. Parents. Teachers. People of the town. “This part of the school wasn’t safe.” “It shouldn’t be open.” “What will they do?” We couldn’t really be bothered with it all. We simply found a way. We found our own way. The voices in our own heads were so much stronger. Now that I think about it, maybe they weren’t any louder than the voices in our heads today, but maybe we just listened more. I want that. I want to listen to that voice that tells me to color outside of the lines. To laugh until I can’t stand. To embrace my friends openly. To take what I’m given and celebrate! To love and play over the din of doom. To feel the bounce of my red rubber heart! I can hear that joy! You can hear it! I know we can do this! Whatever this day may bring, let’s find a way – our own way – to have a little fun!

What was it all for, if we didn’t have a little fun?