Jodi Hills

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


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The Farm Report.

Maybe it was different. Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe we just didn’t hear about it. But what I remember of the news is this — riding in the front seat of my grandmother’s car. Windows open. The smell of earth. Bare legs stuck to the seat. Grandma’s house-dress waving in the breeze, and the flap of her upper arms. The news we listened to was only this — The Farm Report, and Paul Harvey. The voices melodic. Familiar. Simple. And we were saved.

I was washing the breakfast dishes. Looking out the window. Contemplating, agonizing, over this morning’s news. I opened the window. “Please just drive,” I thought. Drive us in open-earth-smelling air away from all this heartache. This killing.

I looked down below the window. “Uncle Wally” (the baby walnut tree) was standing strong. The tulips, looked dry, a little watering needed. The roses — full bloom, nothing to do but enjoy. My “farm report.” My heart calmed to a simpler time. I wish it for everyone.

I will not take up arms to fight arms. It is not my nature. It is not my belief. I can only offer my humble words. String them together, and possibly you can find some comfort in that. Some release. Some hope. Maybe, if we all could do that for each other — be the voices of common sense, common understanding, maybe we could all be saved. Maybe it’s too simple – but I pray it’s possible.

When Paul Harvey signed off, he always said, “Good day…” Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought his voice raised up a little at the end, as if maybe it were a question. And maybe it was. Maybe he was asking us to be better, to be more human, asking us to please, make it a good day.

Today, I will ask myself, and ask the same of you, “Good day…?”


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Freshly broomed.

There is an intimacy to this life that I don’t want to miss.

We were visiting Burano, Italy – an island near Venice. It is known for its lace work and brightly colored homes. These homes are stunning. I even painted them. But it’s funny, I have this memory that is even more vivid. It was morning. We were strolling the near empty streets to find some coffee. And there was an older woman sweeping her front stoop. Just an old woman, with an old straw broom. But never “just.” This was her home. Her life. A life she dressed for. Already in a skirt and apron, she cleaned her front step to prepare for the day. In this tourist village, where people spent all their vacation dollars to see these brightly colored homes, she had a life. A life she cared for. Dressed for. And lived. And how lucky I was to see it!

I want to see it every day. With neighbors and strangers and family and friends. I want to see it on the news. Feel it. These are people. With lives. Each one special. Intimate.

There is a connection in the simplest of things. If we can see the broom. We can see the hands. If we see the hands, maybe we can feel the hearts. If we can see the hearts, then maybe, just maybe… our world – OUR world could open its morning doors, step on to the front stoop and feel safe, feel loved, feel alive. I won’t believe it’s “just” a dream.


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Leaving the basement.

It was in thick cup. White with a pinstripe around its rim. Heavy. Sturdy, I thought. Probably could withstand a drop or a toss across the room. After I tasted the coffee, I understood why. 

Church basement coffee. It was never the best. Even before coffee became a lifestyle, I think we all knew. But then we had better. Delicious coffee. Robust. Full. Flavored. There was no turning back. 

I suppose it’s the same with everything. Especially people. I think back to the way we treated people in Junior High, and I cringe. I assumed life would change dramatically as we got older. But some still seem stuck. Childish. Bullies. Name calling. I’m over it. As we all should be. I’ve tasted better. I’ve been liked better. Loved better. And there’s no turning back.

Are my standards high? I hope so! I hope yours are too. Let’s not waste our time with mediocrity. I want to be better. At everything. Mostly at being a good human. And I think we help each other achieve that by raising the bar. Let’s get out of the basement and live! Fully flavored lives. Robust even! 

The cup has been flung. The bar has been raised. Good morning!!!


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First, again.

When visiting Dominique’s mother, we relive everything with her, for the first time, every few minutes. Of course she knew me, but time has taken that away. Yesterday she asked Dominique, “Is that your fiance?” “My wife,” he answers. She claps her hands – “Marvelous!” I smile even as I type this. She apologizes for not getting us a gift, and in two minutes we go through the same conversation. And it’s still marvelous!

It’s ironic, I suppose, that her forgetting is a wonderful reminder.

Our first kiss is long gone, but not our first kiss of the day. We’ve had countless croissants, but today’s is fresh. This day is one we’ve never experienced. Words align themselves in different order. Paint grabs hold the canvas like never before. Trees bloom again in our yard, for the first time this spring. I look around. Clap my hands together! Marvelous!

Thank you, Lucie.


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A pretty big deal.

We have a dessert here called Café gourmand. It varies from restaurant to restaurant, but usually consists of an espresso and a small selection of tiny little delicacies. Perhaps a Crème brûlée, fondant au chocolat, tart, or a biscuit. It is so satisfying, so delicious, so delightful, proving once again, it takes so little.

I had just gotten my first job. For Christmas each employee got a box of fancy chocolates and nuts. I didn’t have the money to indulge in something like that. Nor did I have the money to give such fancy gifts. I enjoyed the beautiful packaging for just a moment, then sent it off to my grandmother for her Christmas gift. She sent a note back in the mail. I knew it was from her immediately, without looking at the return address. I recognized her handwriting. (Proof of something so much bigger.) She thanked me for the gift, and said, “I will only share these with a select group of people. And when you come to visit, I will share them with you, and then you will know how special you are.”


I had spent nothing, and got everything in return. Let’s do the small things for each other — offering petite tastes of kindness, joy and love. So filling. So delicious. So delightful!


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Holding on.

Sunday afternoons were always the longest. Especially in winter. When it got dark so early. I read. There was that. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her Sunday afternoons, I imagined were full. With Ma and Pa, and Mary, and that little one that nobody really liked. I laid on the floor and walked to their “Little House in the Big Woods” — before they moved to the Prairie. Everyone remembers the Prairie – maybe because of the television show, but for me it was that book – Little House in the Big Woods – because it was the first book in that series that I owned. That I could hold and smell and turn the pages. That I could read and read again on dark, Sunday afternoons.


My mom often laid beside me. Both of us near a speaker of our giant console. Only a few records, she played over and over. Barry Manilow. Frank Sinatra. Worn from the play on those dark days.
She always told me, “One day, the days are going to go so fast. Filled with so much joy, we’ll barely be able to hold on.”


She was more than right. Nothing is lighter than joy, and oh, how it can fly. Sometimes, I try to catch it all in the blur that passes, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, art, love, travel, France, glasses — clinking, laughter, food passed around tables, and words shared in whispers and dog-eared books. And it is fast — this traveling at the speed of joy. Sometimes I wonder, how will I hold on, and then I see, my hands knowing, folded together in thanks, holding. On.


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Tremble.

I learned a new word yesterday, and not in French, but Latin. Spolia. Spolia is now an art historical term for the recycling of architectural fragments. A fragment of an old building is taken from its original context and reused in a different context. This has happened throughout history. Usually these pieces are not taken at random. It first began perhaps to symbolize a new ruler to rulers of the past, for example in the Arch of Constantine, fragments of sculptures honoring Marcus Aurelius and Trajan were added to symbolize the equal greatness of Constantine. The first time I saw this was in Chicago at the Tribune Tower. I thought it was beautiful, but I didn’t have the word for it then.

I suppose, as humans, we do the same. I hope we are doing the same. Giving honor to the best of those that have come before us. When my Grandmother passed away, I wrote a poem for her. My way of adding a piece of her to my heart. It still holds me. These pieces of her, my mother — what a foundation! I stand strong today because of them, for them, forever with them.


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Yellow.

We have a group of people here in France called the “yellow jackets” – those protesting, well, I’m not even sure what they are protesting… They have lost a lot of momentum, probably because, as near as I can tell, that had nothing to stand on, or for. I remember watching the news in Paris when they were interviewing them on the streets. When the reporter asked why they were in the streets, why they were protesting, so many said, “Well, I’m just not happy…”. I laughed. Not happy. Since when was any government, any other person really, responsible for your happiness. And this is not unique to France. We have these people in the US. You see them all over the world.


Happiness is not a gift. Happiness takes work. It’s a process. A practice. It’s the art of finding a bit of joy in the smallest of things. The courage to look, in the most unlikely places. The guts to keep trying, to keep searching. And I will never belittle the effort. Some days will always be easier than others. Some days you only have to get over the fact that UPS is running late. Other days, your heart may be ripped in two. There is no “yellow jacket” for that. But there is always yellow. The promise of the bird singing in the tree. The dawning of a new day sun. The joy, that if you dig, deeply, and then have the courage to look up, it will carry you on wings — yellow wings of hope, of guts, of joy.


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Fumbling towards grace.

If you think you have nothing to learn, try inserting your USB cable into the port the first time. Nothing more humbling than taking three times to insert a two sided object.

Life can be just that – so humbling – but that’s not a bad thing. (I don’t mean in a degrading way… we should never “put down” or diminish.) But to be humble, is to be open. Open to learning. Trusting. Letting go. Open to the understanding that we are not the center of the universe, but a part of it all the same. A part of all the beautiful stumbling and fumbling along. And if we saw that, maybe we could be a little more gentle, not just with others, but with ourselves.

Oh, be it ever so humble, and the universe knows that it has to be, that we have to be…because it’s all impermanent…
but the grace that comes from the living in,
the living through, this can never be taken away.

It’s what keeps me going. Knowing all of this is inside of you, inside of me. And keeps me forever fumbling towards grace.


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The good review.

I was listening to an interview yesterday with the author, Ann Patchett. You may know her from her books, Commonwealth, and the Dutch House. She is an accomplished writer. She has won many awards and her books are best sellers. The interviewer asked her about reviews and she said she rarely read them, and certainly never the bad reviews. She said she has a group of people around her, good friends, that shield her from these. But the crazy thing is, she explained, strangers, people who love her books, buy her books, wait in line for her to sign the books, some of these people still want to remind her of bad reviews. She said people will even take the time to cut out a bad review from the newspaper and bring it to her when they want their book signed. What?????And in all the years she has written, all the book signings she has done, no one has ever cut out a good review and brought it to her. This seems insane for so many reasons.

I have to believe this is some sort of flaw in these particular people. This can’t be human nature –this need to bring people down, the people you like, respect, love even… Because if it is a flaw, it can be fixed. And it must be fixed. Perhaps it is insecurity, jealousy, anger… I don’t know… but it has to end.

There is an old Native American Proverb —
No tree has branches so foolish as to fight amongst themselves. Perhaps we could be as smart as the trees. Grow together. Learn together. Support each other. Stand in line. Slip gently across the table, the good review.