Jodi Hills

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


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Lending a hand.

We all do it. Slow down to look. And I’m guilty of it. Staring at this “traffic accident” called my brain. Replaying it over and over in my head. And you can honk all you want. I even try to honk myself out of it… but there I sit.  Silly brain.  

I have the tools. Literally and figuratively. Yesterday, I had the sense to use them. For over three hours I lent my brain a hand. Gave it a break. I started stretching canvas. To measure the wood. Cut it. Square it. Glue it. Nail it. Size the canvas. Stretch it. Staple it. You have to focus. (Eyes forward. Hands at 10 and 2, as it were.)  And what a relief. What a sweet and glorious respite to let my hands take over. 

I thought of this just as I was typing – when you buy something from a “maker,” you get so much more than a product. You get a piece of their life, and all the lives that have touched them. The baker. The poet. The sculptor. The painter. The builder. All will give the tangled and twisted bits of their heart.

Maybe today I will let my mind wander down a new path, and start painting on one of those canvases. The window rolled down on this open road of creativity. Breeze in my hair, radio tuned to my favorite song, the journey continues. Let’s ride.


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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!



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Beyond fear.

My mother was in grade school when she hit Arnie Zavadil in the head with her metal lunch box. He was making fun of her younger brother Tom. She was the eldest daughter of Rueben and Elsie. And she took it seriously. She would later drop “eldest” and trade it in for “prettiest,” when describing her familial role, but she never lost her protective spirit.

I counted on that protective swing my whole life as we navigated through the world, often filled with “taunting Arnies.” Even when she traded in her lunch box for white ruffles, dangling earrings and Red Door perfume. I always felt safe. I felt protected. What a gift she gave us all.

Never underestimate the strength of a Hvezda girl armed with love — she is grace beyond fear.


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Paying attention.

Cluttered with nightmares and nonsense, I don’t normally put that much stock into my dreams. But all last night, I was trying to sign up for another year of university. Hour after hour I searched for the registration. Went through the pamphlets. Made appointments with my advisor. Even after waking up twice, I went right back to it. Would I rent the apartment near campus? Would I get an advanced degree? Academia all night long. I’m not complaining – it was far from the normal hauntings. So was it a sign?

Signs are funny things. They are probably all around us – all the time. Some meant for us. Some maybe not. Some gathered in. Some trampled over. I guess it is what we choose to see. And maybe when we miss it, it repeats itself. Over and over again. Until we pay attention. 

I guess it’s time for me to keep learning. Or maybe, it’s a sign to tell myself that I AM still learning. I will forever be learning. And that is not a nightmare, but a gift. And that’s a hard one for me to, well, learn. I can get myself trapped in a worry. Stuck in a pattern of fearing the unknown. But it will always be there — through all the nightmares and nonsense — there will be growth. There will be challenges. There will be learning. Beauty in it all. 

The sun rises brand new, telling me, “If I’m not happy in this time, in this place, I’m not paying attention.”


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The shape of love.

Just one letter separated the two words. And barely even a letter, only the slightest curve between the “a” and the “o”. Hallowed. Hollowed. They were in the poem she sent me. It was beautiful for so many reasons, but for me, this tiniest of movements that could change one word to another, one emotion to another, filled me with hope, filled me with love.

That’s why I have always loved words. Books. Therein lies the possibilities.

We went to Book in Bar yesterday – my favorite bookstore in Aix. The comfort was palpable. As we stood by the coffee bar, waiting for our cappuccinos, I saw it. Flâneuse, by Lauren Elkin. A Chicago friend had tagged me in a post about it just the day before. I have never been one to ignore magic, so I picked it up, sat with it at our table. Hallowed.

I suppose I think, if I live in the word, I might too possess the skills to make the same changes. To take an empty day, and fill it.

As I wander (the meaning of flâneuse) through the “a”s and “o”s of my day, I will choose the magic. Choose the hope of each word and place it into that hollow part of my heart, and fill it. I will write my story. Live my story. Share my story. For I have to believe — it’s the most beautiful magic of all!


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The kitchen cow.

You could see a cow from almost every window in my grandparent’s home. Maybe it was just too many reminders for my grandma on this particular day. I never thought of her having a middle name. I barely thought of her first name. She told me while sitting at the kitchen table – it was Gladys. Her middle name. She said she liked it. I could see a bit of a twinkle in the eye that rested above her curled lip. She was thinking about something…  And I suppose it was the first time I saw her not just as a grandma, but a woman. A woman of this world. And she looked beautiful. “But Elsie is nice,” I said. “Ah, it’s a bit too much like a cow…You can call me Gladys if you like,” she said. And her apron started to disappear. I smiled, knowing I had witnessed something so very special. She slapped her hands on her thighs. The apron reappeared and she went back to the sink. I grabbed her from behind, and I hugged, again, and for the first time.  

At our kitchen table here in France, I sit at the chair that faces my little cow. I painted it years ago. It rests just over Dominique’s shoulder. All of my worlds, open, with each morning croissant. The radio was playing Cabaret this morning. Liza sang “I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie.” My heart grins. For, I too, for just a brief moment had, not just a grandma, but a girlfriend…who let me in, well beyond the kitchen, inside her private twinkle.


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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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Joie de vivre.

Someone was assigned to pull down the 8′ black shades and the white screen at the front of the class. Another student was assigned to wheel in the projector. The rest of us squirmed in our seats with hearts beating like gerbils on a wheel. Movie day at Washington Elementary was like no other. Nearly two hours of no memorizing. No reciting. No confusion. No pressure.

The sound of the wheel clicking into place. Then the film snaking into position. The projection light coming cn. It was almost unbearable. We had watched the same film for years. First grade. Second grade. Again in 3rd, 4th and 5th. It didn’t matter. It was the memory of pure and uncomplicated joy.

It has been decades since I sat at those desks. But I can feel it as though it were yesterday. Today, memories of my mother turn round and round on my heart’s movie reel. This joy is almost unbearable, but I know I will carry it with me, forever — for that’s what she was, pure and uncomplicated joy.


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Bagels and napkins.

She called me at work. It was my first real job out of college. We didn’t really celebrate the holidays then. My mother didn’t like to cook. So it was a big surprise when she said she was going to defrost the turkey she found in the freezer. I said I would come home and we would celebrate Thanksgiving. A couple hours later she called and said it turned out to be just a bag of ice. “Do you remember buying a turkey?” I asked. She said, “I don’t remember buying the bag of ice.”

We laughed. Hard! We knew what a gift this was! She drove to Minneapolis instead. We had wine and toasted bagels and made our plans for the next day of shopping. I will be forever grateful for these times! Our only traditions were love and joy!!!

My friend sent me home with napkins of orange and yellow – adorned with the word “thankful.” I was tired yesterday, and no one gets Thursday off here – of course Thanksgiving is an American holiday — so it was just Dominique and I. We could have eaten left-overs, but I had those napkins. I had that friend. I had those memories. So I made some chicken and mushroom risotto. Poured the wine. Lit the candles, and we gave thanks in our own special way, with love and joy. My mother had taught me just how to do it.

Let me always see the gift.


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Beside still waters.

“If wishes were fishes, we’d all be in the brook.” My grandma used to tell me that. Maybe that’s one reason why I like the water so much.

We closed the pool down for the season. It’s a process. One that I never dreamed I would ever have to learn. Coming from the land of 10,000 lakes, nature took care of all that on her own.  We vacuumed and brushed. Swept. Scooped. Added the extra chemicals. Covered it. Then placed a net on top of the cover. I got a little dizzy, bending over, putting the stakes in the ground to hold the net. I leaned against the pool house, gave thanks, and said goodbye to the season. I know another will come. I believe in it. 

And in this new season, I will wish new wishes, and be buoyed by all the ones that have come true. And there have been so many. Pools and pools and lakes upon lakes filled with blessings. Oceans have been crossed and filled. I know how lucky I am. When I stop to lean against the sturdy of gratitude, beside still waters, I am saved.