Jodi Hills

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


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Produce

I have professed my love for libraries, over and over. The Washington School Library. The Alexandria Public Library. One small room. One small building. Each opened a world to me that will never close. I can smell the wood that housed the paper. The slight hint of sweet mildew, like an open window.

The truth is, this was not my first impression of books. My first collection of words on pages — words mixed with colorful art – these books held the smell of fresh produce. It was at Olson’s Supermarket. My mother hoisted me into the shopping cart. The silver denting the back of my thighs. Legs dangling. Her purse beside me.

Just after the cart corral was a long display of Golden Books. I can feel my arms reaching. They were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She placed one in my chubby hand and I was changed. Words on paper. My arms will be forever reaching.

I can hear her voice reading each page. Night after night. Year after year. And then I started to hear my own. How do you thank someone for giving you the world? I suppose the only way I know is to use the same words I was given. Again and again.

I was speaking to the young woman who is currently working on my new website. Not a small task. She has to handle each piece of art, each word. She told me yesterday, because she is so immersed in all of the work, “I feel like I know you.” My heart is still smiling. My arms are still reaching. We are in different countries. From different generations, and my paintings of the apples remind her of her mother’s kitchen. Once again, the sweet smell of produce… My world opens, and I give thanks with the words that first saved me.


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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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All the places I’ve been, I feel like going home.

For years I searched for “home.” Then I began to write about it. Paint it. And slowly, as most answers come, it became clear that “home,” not unlike “happiness,” was nothing to be found, but created. Continuously. Moment by moment. Bit by bit. So I did. I do.

You may think, oh, that’s too much work… but no, it was a relief. It IS a relief — a relief to stop searching, and just be. I think they both (this home, this happiness) have to be fluid, ever changing. Because everything does change. What made me happy twenty years ago, yesterday, is not the same as today. So I have to change. Grow. Decide even. What gives me joy? What gives me comfort? Right here. Right now. And live in that. And in giving myself the permission, the power, to change, to grow, and to decide, I feel — well, happy — and I can live here (wherever that may be), in this heart, in this moment, and think, this is home.


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From a distance.

From a distance.

When painting, from time to time, you need to take a step back. And just look. It always looks different. Or more clear. Same eyes. Different view. So close to the easel, you can miss it. Only in stepping back, taking in the full picture, can you see what’s really happening on the canvas.  Then you can get close again. Change what’s needed. Sometimes it’s just a stroke or two. Other times you really have to paint over what you had — “give up your darlings” as they say — ideas and images that we make so precious, so darling, that we can’t even see the truth of them. It’s easy to think everything we do is right… the only way… but trust me, I have been proven wrong, stroke by stroke. It’s never easy, but it has always been for the better.

Since moving to France, I have begun to see my home town in a whole new light. I guess I had to step back. From here, each blue seems a little bluer, from lake to sky. Nothing was perfect, far from darling. But things needed to be released just the same. I suppose my “darlings” were thinking that everyone could have been better, should have been better. But I was so close to my own canvas that I couldn’t see them. Maybe they, too, were having their own struggles. Everyone does. Maybe they were doing the best they could do. Maybe we all were. The buoys in the lake, after all, weren’t there just for me. Maybe we were all looking to be saved.

I am reminded of a song sung by Bette Midler:

From a distance
The world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white

From a distance
The ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need

And there are no guns,
No bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band

Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

From a distance
You look like my friend
Even though we are at war

From a distance
I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man

It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

I take a step back today, and I see you. Beautiful.


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The garden.

The yard will need a lot of work when we get home. Living in an apartment for years, I never really knew what it took to keep up a yard, a garden. There is digging and moving and poking and nourishing and raking and watering, and mowing. It takes sweat and time and faith. And then it’s calm. The peace of the green grass under a blue sky. Serenaded by the birds. Calm. Home. 

I suppose that’s what we all want. I thought that’s what we all wanted. Peace. And yet, here we are again — war. As if we’ve learned nothing. And I’m at a loss for what to write. What to paint. Does it make a difference? Does it make a difference if we post the pictures of those suffering, scared, fleeing? And it’s so easy to say “look how wrong they are” and then fight with our neighbors about masks and politics. We have to do better. We know better – don’t we? Please, let us know better. 

Spring is on the way. A most glorious time of year. Beauty at every turn. But it expects things from us. It expects us to participate in all this glory. We have to participate. Be sowers of green. Of peace. We have to do the work. With our hands and our hearts. And we can’t give up. We know after each winter, there will be work to be done. And so it is with peace — constant work to be done. I don’t have the answers, but I have hope, and hands and a heart, and I’m going to keep trying. For calm. For home. For us. For all. Peace.


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Home town.

In Kindergarten, Mrs. Strand had the audacity to leave us mid year to give birth to twins. In the first grade, Mrs. Bergstrom, hair pulled back in a bun, wore her long pencil skirt and wool sweater all the way until summer break. We knew she would never leave. She taught us the meaning of the word trust, and then taught us how to spell it. She was opening our worlds. Then one day, she lined us up, single file, and quietly led us up the stairs, turned us to the left, opened the big wooden door. All was silent but for the singing of my heart’s choir! The library! All those books. A conversation from wall to wall. Information. Entertainment. Belonging. Yes, most of all the belonging. I knew I would be both comforted and launched — I suppose the perfect definition of home.


And I was home. Here in the words.


Yesterday we arrived in Laurel, Mississippi. Being an HGTV fan, I wanted to see it all. Where they filmed. What they made. The houses they transformed. People have told me, oh, you’ll be disappointed – it’s only make believe.


We pulled into town and the first thing I saw were the giant books painted on the side of the building. I smiled. I have always been one made to believe — the very day I stepped through the big wooden door at Washington Elementary. I know all is not always as it seems. But it is always what you choose to see. Today I choose to see the magic of it all — from the giant books on the side of a building to the promise of a small home town. It’s hard to hear the doubters over the singing of my heart.


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Body work.



Several times a year in school they would send a note home for us to give to our parents asking to collect for the food drive. My mother would laugh and say, “We’d just have to go pick it up later…”

I suppose you are only poor if you think you are poor. We never did.

We had an old blue station wagon. It started to rust around the wheel areas — Minnesota! My mother taught herself (without the internet) to sand it down, prime it, and paint it. We needed it to last. So she did the “body work.” And it did.

I suppose that’s why I write. I remember the stories, sand them down, paint them for all the world to see. Because they are our greatest assets. The lessons. The love. The work. They keep us rich, and, oh, how I, we, need them to last.




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One moment, please.

It may have been Mark Twain, (some give credit to Charles Dudley Warner) but someone once said, 

“Everybody Talks About the Weather, But Nobody Does Anything About It.”

My mother used to operate the switchboard for Alexandria Public Schools. Every winter those phones went crazy. Everyone wanted to talk about the weather! Are the buses going to be late? Why are the buses going to be late? If the buses are going to be an hour late, what time will they come? With the patience of a Nordic saint, my mother answered each call. “One moment please…” And the next call would come in. “What are you going to do about this damn storm?” he asked, not politely. She held her breath. Knowing she had her own damn storm to deal with. This life. I suppose everyone does. And most people don’t do anything about it. But she wanted to. And she did. She went to work every day. Put on her best clothes. Her best smile, sometimes merely painted on, but on none the less. And she worked, not just at this job, but at this life. To make it better for her. To make it better for me. Because she knew it was all just a moment. One moment. And she was going to live it. He shouted again on the phone line. She smiled. She was going to be more than fine. “One moment please…”
Sent from my iPad


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Of being carried.

I was watching something on netflix. I don’t even remember the movie. But an image I’ve seen a million times, on the screen, in real life, a young child being carried. And it struck me so – I wish I could remember that – that feeling of being lifted. Of being carried. Of being relaxed. Feet dangling. At ease. Held up. I have no memory of this. I’m not sure most people do.

I went to bed after the movie. Still a bit anxious from the news of the day. He knew that. I explained thoughts in fragments. Puzzles of emotions. He has a way of brushing the tear, not from my eye, no, he lets it fall to the bottom of my chin, and then catches it. Telling me it’s ok to feel. Allowing me to feel. And he’ll be there. He is there. And I know it. I release the air that worry tries to trap in my lungs, and I breathe. And breathe again. And I sleep. Feet dangling. I do remember.


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In the painting.

When you open the refrigerator door in our second kitchen, it’s pretty easy to tell we live in France. The Camembert fromage (cheese) wafts its unique “bonjour” and I know we are home.


And what a glorious thing it is to make yourself a home. I don’t mean to fill…but to actually create. To curate your space with a life that is yours. What could be more beautiful? Each painting, each photograph, a story. Each book, a conversation. A place to launch. A place to land. As unique and full of feeling as an original painting. A painting in which you can see each stroke. See where one color blended into the next. Actually feel the hands that made it.


I grew up in the painting — the neighborhood — of Van Dyke Road. The Vasek’s lived in the first house. The dust from the gravel road gathered on their screen door, giving it a creak to announce each visitor. They seemed especially old, probably because I was especially young, but I would visit them. How odd it must seem now, to say we, young and old, would visit our neighbors, walk through their unlocked, creaking doors and visit their curated world. Each stroke that was unique to their “birthplace of America.” It was a light peach colored home, and smelled, not of age, but of time. Time of food cooking on the stove. It was worn, the welcome rug, the railing at the front door. I didn’t have words for it then, but what a glorious gift, what a symbol of love, community, and peace, to wear the railing of your heart’s door with the hands of those around you.


I suppose that’s why I paint. To welcome you, near and far, into my world. To see the strokes of my life, and tell you, young and old, this is my neighborhood, my creaking door, my welcome mat, my heart — “Come in, you and your heart sit down.”