Jodi Hills

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

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Come-with gal.

She would go to almost anything. See almost anyone. One ring of the party-line telephone and she’d be getting in the car. With me hesitating on the steps of her farmhouse, she’d look back and say, “Be a come-with gal.” And even though it sounded like a horrible thing to do — this garage sale, this coffee in the church basement, this visitation at the funeral home– she would continue to smile at me, and the curl of her upper lip cartoon-pulled at my t-shirt, and soon I’d be getting in the car. 

“Oh, it’s gonna be great,” she said, talking over the farm report on the radio. I loved her and I wanted to be convinced. Only Paul Harvey could stop the sell. We rolled up the windows and listened. 

Each event itself would have been, well, uneventful, but it was the time with my grandma that made it so special. Everyone knew her. From the moment she entered a room, or a lawn, the words, “Oh, Elsie…” rang through the crowd. All I could do was watch the show. I marveled at the fun she was having. More than anyone else it seemed. I guess it was because she had already decided while opening the car door, that she was going to have a good time. All worries and expectations flew out the window. Her extra wide house shoes turned into ruby slippers and she was determined to have some fun. 

It’s easy to forget. The mundane tasks of grocery and hardware can seem like a drudgery at times. Dominique will ask if I want to go to Leroy Merlin (our version of Home Depot) and it feels like it would be so easy to turn away. But then I see her. Hear her smiling. “I’m a come-with gal,” I say, and get in the car.

If she missed a day, I didn’t see it. I think she heard the voice that called daily, to come along for the ride. I wake up to the morning, smile, and listen.


Protecting grace.

It began out of necessity — “If You See Something, Say Something®” —  a national campaign to raise public awareness of the signs of terrorism. We’re nearing SeeSayDay, September 25th. It was established, as their website explains, because “We all have someone, or something, to protect.” 

And while I believe this is extremely important, I’d like to add a thought. What if we took this philosophy, this “If you see something, say something,” and used it in our daily lives, when what we saw was something good, someone beautiful…

I have never met her in “real life.” Only here on Facebook. My cousin, Shawn, introduced us. And from what I am reading in her recent posts, I will not be offered that chance of meeting her face to face. 

What I do know is this. She sat with my grandmother and made rugs. Quilts. Some might say, only making tiny artistic ripples in the small pond of Farwell, Minnesota. But the grace, and elegance she is showing in her final days is extraordinary. The words of peace and gratitude she is offering up, for me, has created a wave that reaches across the sea, and it is so very beautiful. If she ever had doubts about becoming an artist, let them end here. What I see is a gorgeous work of art. I see her, and I have to say something. I have to tell her, tell the world, that she matters. Thank you, Gloria.

Perhaps this is my daily campaign. To show you the people that I think ARE REALLY SOMETHING!  The SeeSayDay urges us to “get involved.” I guess I’m doing the same. Because I agree, we do have a duty to protect each other from the evil of this world. But perhaps just as important, we have the privilege of shining the light on the best of us. We have a grace to protect.

Today, if you are met with kindness, with love, with beauty of any kind — and I pray that you are — please, please say something!

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Well traveled.

I know that I am nothing new. I am not the first to have sat in her studio, stil flush from the emotion of putting paint on canvas. Not ready to let the feeling pass. Wanting to feed it. Grabbing the nearest book. Devouring word after word. Never thinking about the “all” they said we couldn’t have. 

It was Miss Green that introduced us to the “spelling trip.” Each week in our fifth grade classroom at Washington Elementary we split off into teams and randomly selected a place on the map. We learned all we could about the destination, then, as a group, wrote about our journey. We pushed our desks and minds together and began to write. I don’t remember where we were headed this particular week, but it was somewhere in the countryside. Someone said, “Let’s head for the hills!” One clever boy followed with, “And everyone jumped on Jodi!” 

Maybe she wasn’t the first teacher to think of this method, but she was the first to tell us. She was the first to open our hearts and imaginations to seeing, not all, but more. She sparked our curiousity. Fed it with paper and pencils and maps. And the journey began. My journey began.

Would I be living the same life without this start? Maybe. Maybe not. But joyfully, I’ll never have to find out. There is no closing of a heart cracked wide open. No closing of a heart that wants to roam from creative hands to flushing cheeks — a heart well traveled. 

I know that I am not the first to believe in love. I may not even be the first person to love you. But no one has loved with this very heart…this bruised and ever hopeful, beating heart…cracked open enough to let yours in. And this doesn’t make us new, but it does make us special. 

I have this thought, sitting book in hand, before the canvas, easel wide open… what if the only “all” we thought of, was what we had to give…


Oranges. Poranges.

For a brief moment, we had orange countertops. Some of my friends’ mothers wouldn’t allow you to sit in or on the kitchen cupboards, but my mom did. Maybe it was because I told her I liked to read in that sea of orange — like I was balanced on a giant spoon in a bowl of sherbet. Or maybe it was because she was never really all that precious about things. Or maybe she knew we wouldn’t have them that long. They didn’t have time to go out of style before we had to sell the house.

It wasn’t that long ago that she wondered aloud, perhaps she should have cooked more. Taught me things in the kitchen. Oh, but you did, I said. Cooking, no. But the things I learned! To imagine! To dream! The freedom to sail orange waters! Nothing could have fed me more! And perhaps just as important, the lesson in letting it all go, with grace, and with hope. That’s how she lived.

There was a cartoon at the time. H.R. Pufnstuf. I loved it. Every Saturday morning. In one episode they sang a song, “Oranges Poranges.” It was ridiculous. But it always made me laugh. Everything was packed and in the moving truck, but for the weight of having to leave — that we carried with us. I was standing by the back door. I watched my mom take one more look around. I didn’t want to cry. She looked at me. Brushed her hand across the countertops, then gave it one final tap, as if to cue the song. “Oranges Poranges,” she sang at the top of her voice, “Oranges Poranges, who says, there ain’t no rhyme for oranges!” We smiled and walked out the door one last time. She taught me everything.

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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!


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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I had played on teams for years before I understood that the “A” in “Bring your A game” didn’t stand for Alexandria. But I liked that it did. I mean I always knew that it meant the coach wanted us to be our best. To do our best. For ourselves. For our team. For our hometown – Alexandria. I suppose, in a joyful way, I will always want to do my best for this place. 

Now there are other cities that do this for me as well. New York. Paris. They make me want to be a better artist. A better human. I read books by great authors, in hopes of becoming a better writer. I visit museums. Watch videos. Sketch. Learn. Repeat. And maybe most importantly, I try to surround myself with people who are doing the same. Not the same things necessarily, but trying to do their best at whatever they do. Because as we learned in school, you always play better against the better team. 

My mother (Ivy) didn’t know anything about sports. But oh, did she have game! And she brought it. Even in her toughest times. She brought it with style. Elegance. Lipstick. Grace. And an endless supply of breath mints in her purse. She taught me more about winning than any coach. Any team. Winning was playing when you didn’t feel like it. Winning was getting up. Getting dressed. Presenting your best self to this world. Not to convince them, but to convince yourself — you were worthy, you were someone. Winning was laughing beyond the tears. Winning was loving, beyond a cracked heart. Winning was teaching your daughter to be her best. Do her best.

I have a lot to live up to. That is not pressure, but a welcome challenge. The sun is coming up. I reach for the best inside of me — not just my A-game, but my I-game as well. I smile in the mirror. And put a breath mint in my purse.


The promise of spring.

The first sign of spring came when Sylvia Dynda hung her weekly wash out on the line. Damp white cotton, blowing in the gentle breeze — a breeze warmed with a promise written by Hemingway himself — “There would always be the spring…” It would be years before I read the line, before I could read at, but I knew… And so with my freshly exposed skin, I ran through the empty lot that separated our houses, and under the sun I danced through this sea of white. Clothes that were alive! Clothes that cooled my sun-surprised shoulders and warmed my summer eager heart. It was a promise of forever, and I immersed myself in it.

She must have known it too, Mrs. Dynda, because there would be no other reason to let the quite possibly dirty hands of an unrelated neighbor girl touch her freshly laundered clothing. Sometimes I could see her smiling through the newly replaced screen door that her husband Frank put up for the summer. I knew she knew. And so I would dance.

Yesterday was the first time I washed my mother’s ruffled blouse. Her blouses were always whiter than any other person’s. Always clean. Always pressed. Always spectacular. I didn’t want to mess this up. I washed a basin. Washed it with a new washcloth, just in case. Added the water. The delicate detergent. Gently wooshed it with my clean hands. Let it soak. Then hung it on our clothesline. Our new spring breezes were strong. I watched over it. This was more than just a blouse on the line, this was the promise of forever. The promise that my mother would always be with me. I let the sleeves ruffle my arms. Dance damply around me. She made it to the south of France. And I would make it through this spring. It was promised on Van Dyke road. It was promised today. I knew she knew. And so we would dance.

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I didn’t even notice it when I took the picture – how the bamboo tree photobombed my most recent painting.

I don’t know that I was aware of the speed, strength and resilience of bamboo before moving to France. We have a tiny forest of them in our backyard. It’s not like you can actually see them growing…but almost. For the most part, we have kept them contained to a single area, but this one somehow snuck much closer to the house.

I was never really one to paint landscapes before. I had only lived in the city. But I am surrounded by nature now. I walk through it daily. It seems I permanently have a rock in my shoe, every shoe, and a call to wander. It’s in my heart now. And as with all of my paintings, they have to travel through there first. I paint the landscapes. I live in this new palette. And I can see it. The growth.

Maybe I didn’t notice it while it was happening, but I have bambooed my way into this new palette — this new life. I suppose that’s the way it is with all growth — strong, resilient, and oh, so surprising!

Green and smiling, I begin the day. New.

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From rack to mirror.

I often tell the story of the first time Dominique went with my mom and I to Herberger’s. Upon entering the back door, it started — the meet and greet. There’s Jessica from shoes. Hi Jessica! Sue in bras. “The last one fits great!” Oh there’s Carol. “Thanks for the boxes!” “This is the manager,” my mom pointed out. “Oh, hi Claudia — we’ll need to pre-order the Clinique.” Dominique seemed dazed and confused. He whispered in my ear, “I don’t understand?” What? I said – it all seeming so normal. “Is your mom the mayor?” He asked. “Of Herberger’s,” I said, “Yes!”

Some of my best memories are in dressing rooms. Whether it was me, or a complete stranger (of course only upon their urging), my mother was there to help. She would stand just behind your shoulder. Look with you in the three way mirror. And with your very best interests at heart, she would say, “I think we can do better.” And then she was with you – to the very end – from rack to mirror and back again. Until it was just right. No abandonings. Only truth. Only support. Until it was completely beautiful.

I have been told that these sweet memories will someday turn from pain to comfort, and then to complete joy. And I believe it. I have to believe it because I’ve seen it from every angle. This three-way reflection of truth, support and beauty.

I look in this morning’s mirror and smile because I can hear it…I can hear her… “We can do better. We will do better.” She is with me. And it is beautiful!