Jodi Hills

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


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Wings or weights.


Yesterday I was watching a short video on Youtube. I clicked on it because it was a beautiful, elderly woman, in her eighties, painting portraits. She was wearing a lovely scarf and skirt and smiling, with eyes and mouth. And it had the most interesting title – “All cats are black.” She had one of those voices that immediately drew you in. She began, “I’m just going to say it, I wanted to be beautiful…that’s all I wanted, there, I said it.” She went on to explain that she wanted to be beautiful because then she thought maybe her mother would love her. And, oh, how she wanted, needed to be loved. Just a mere baby, she was sent off to boarding school. On a visit home, still a baby, she was in the back seat of their car, driving home at night. She said to her mother, “I think I might look pretty in this light.” Her mother replied, “All cats are black at night, I suppose.” I will pause here to let you catch your breath. I know I needed to. What a horrible thing to say! My heart broke for her. Just a string of eight words. A string of eight words that slipped so easily off of her tongue. Slipped so easily off her tongue and (you might think I will say “broke her daughter’s heart) weighted on her daughter’s heart. I say weighted, because broke would be too simple. Broke means maybe you can fix it. Repair it. But weighted. Weighted is constant. A continuous burden. And she carried this burden for 65 years. A string of words for 65 years. Finally, through life, and living, and constantly searching for beauty, through painting portraits, she started to see it in others. See the beauty, even in herself. And she let it go. She let it go…. What a relief to save yourself. And she did. I suppose this is what first caught my eye – this was her beauty!

There are so many things I could say here. About how lucky I was to have a mother that always made me feel beautiful. Who still does. What a glorious gift. I could offer the warnings of how hurtful words can be. How we have to choose them so wisely. How easily we can hurt others. I could speak of the need to always be searching for and recognizing beauty in ourselves and others. I could speak of forgiveness, for that is really all forgiveness is, just letting go. Maybe it all comes down to weight. Each day a decision has to be made, perhaps moment after moment in each day, deciding to be the person who lifts, or the person who brings down. Wings or weights. As one who has seen the height and depth of each side, please, please let me be the wings, let us be the wings. Let’s choose to be kind, and fly!


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A taste of honey.

I can’t say that I ever really liked honey. Well, to be fair, I’m not certain that I had ever really tasted it. Sure, I had the occasional squeeze from a plastic bear, but I understand now that that was probably just manufactured liquid sugar. 

I liked the sound of it – Le miel de lavande, and then I had a taste of it. Lavender honey. My shoes still covered in the lavender field’s morning dew, we purchased a jar from the local vendor. At home, I put a little (let’s not kid ourselves, a lot) on my homemade toasted bread. OH, so this is honey!  Yes. Yes! I DO love honey. I guess you know when it is real. 

I guess it’s the same with everything, not the least of which — love. We’re quick to label so many emotions, connections with the word love. I know I did. Because we don’t know – certainly I didn’t. A taste of this, that, even the other… maybe this was it? Could this be it? And squeezing from the “honey bear” I tried to convince myself that it was good. But was it? Not really. Not for me. 

I suppose one could have stop searching, but my feet answered only to my heart, and it said “keep walking.” So I made my way, slowly, stumbling to the lavender fields. So this is it! This is love. Oui!

I don’t know all the answers, how the magic works, how our heart creates the most unlikely maps, but I do know this, if you can’t taste the honey, really taste it…keep walking. Love should be delicious!


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Heart song.

“Words are partly thoughts, but mostly they’re music, deep down. Thinking itself is, perhaps, orchestral, the mind conducting the world. Conducting it, constructing it.” ― Patricia Hampl

We have a glove compartment full of cds. The car holds our only cd player. Vacation for us begins as I slip the cd into the player. It grabs it gently. Recognizes it. And starts to play the familiar soundtrack of our wanderings.  These trips could be 30 minutes down the road, or five countries in five days. We know the words to each song. The beats. The rhythms. The little nods inside the lyrics. The poetry that fills our souls, guides us down an untraveled path. 

My mother and I did the same. We soundtracked our journeys. Each note giving us strength and courage and the joy of exploration. Frank Sinatra, singing “My kind of town — ” led us into Chicago. And so it went with nearly all of the 50 states. A song for each journey, each story. 

I suppose the music has always carried me. Each note a suitcase for the memory, and a map for open road. Those who know me, really know me, are the ones who can sing along. 

Find this someone — this someone you can sing with. Someone who doesn’t care about the missed notes, or when your timing is just a beat off. Someone who laughs when the country band whispers, “…and Leon…” or is moved to tears with the pure magic of every Paul Simon turn of phrase. Find someone who shares your heart song and says, “Play it again! Play it again!”


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Sprigs of green.

I received this tiny flower for May Day and I put it in the bathroom. It’s only been 48 hours, but I don’t know how I will ever live without it. I thought I loved this shelf before, but now… I will forever want something green. Something growing. Something alive. 

They say that about love. “When you know, you know…” But the problem with that is, you only know what you are taught. And until someone loves you, shows you what real love is, how can you possibly know? And I’m not just talking about romantic love — I mean all of it – the “thy neighbor”, fellow man, global, empathetic, understanding, forgiving, curious, ever kind, evergreen sort of love. Because that’s what love is. Love doesn’t make mistakes. Humans do. And we fail all the time. I fail all the time. But I have been blessed to see what real love is, maybe only glimpses, and maybe that’s all the human eye and heart can handle of this beauty, but what I’ve seen makes me want to try. Makes me want to do better. Like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Oh! To be better!  

Today I give thanks for all those who have shown me, taught me about real love — all those sprigs of green that have lit up my heart. I wish it for everyone — a love forever growing, forever green.


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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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Creating a song.

My mom and I drove to Galveston for the sole reason of the Glen Campbell song of the same name. It wouldn’t be the last time I was lured by the romance of a song.

Yesterday, my husband and I drove to Lake Charles, LA. We can thank Lucinda Williams for that. I (we) have been singing her song “Lake Charles” since we entered the South. The glorious power of seeing things through someone else’s eyes.

Maybe that’s the best thing about all of the arts — seeing things as others see them. In the city where we live in France, Aix en Provence, the Sainte Victoire mountain is the star. Cezanne painted it again and again. I have often wondered if it would have had the same appeal if he hadn’t shown us the beauty that he saw. I’m not sure, because now I can’t unsee it. And it is beautiful.

I write of the simple things. Paint them as well. Some might even say ordinary. I tell you of my home town. My mother. My grandparents. My school. For me, none of it is ordinary. And maybe you see it. See them. And maybe it helps you see the extraordinary beauty of your own life. And with any luck, that beauty gets stuck in your head, like a favorite song.


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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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Today’s pear.

I woke up to my first sale of 2022. It’s always a good feeling. Of course I like the money, but it is way beyond that. Always has been.

I have painted since I was five years old. I wrote stories. Drew pictures. For myself. For my mom. It wasn’t just something I did, it was me – it is me – who I am. I remember some of my first sales of paintings. I would get so excited. Start talking. Telling the story of the origin. Hands waving. So in the moment, I wouldn’t even see the check written and slid across the table. My mom was with me at this particular sale. As she was so often. I was in full excitement mode. Hugging the buyer as we said goodbye. Hugging my mom. She looked at me with her mothering eyes and said, “Take the money, Pea Brain!” She had a way of snapping me back to reality. We laughed! I picked the check off the table.

It’s still exciting to make a sale. It’s still exciting to connect with people. Read your comments when I post each day. It’s still exciting to have a mother that knows me so well. It’s exciting to make a living — to make a life!!! Every day!

Today I will pack up this pear and send it from Aix en Provence to Pennsylvania. And with it will go a piece of my heart, a bit of my story, and the sweet laughter of gratitude.


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The journey.

It happens with a really good book. I have this urgency to keep reading and this need for it to never end. This push and pull inside my brain and heart – keep reading one tells the other, no, wait, slow down. It’s happening right now with the book, “Our Country Friends.” I read last night until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, then woke up early to continue. My eyes still scratchy with sleep I plowed through each word. Slow down my heart urged, but my brain’s hand kept pointing forward.


We were driving to Chicago, my mom and I. It was winter and the trip was always a gamble, but one we were so willing to take. If we could make it beyond Tomah, Wisconsin, without a snowstorm, we were safe. As we neared this critical halfway point, the snow began. Then harder. We kept singing to the radio as the view got whiter and whiter. “Do you think we’ll be smart enough to pull over if it gets too bad?” my mother asked. Before I, or she, could respond, the barrier across the freeway had been lowered and we were forced to pull off the exit. “I guess not…” we said together.


I don’t remember what we bought on that trip to Chicago – that shopping excursion – but I do remember the journey. The journey together. I suppose that’s everything, isn’t it? I closed my book and went down to make breakfast. I wanted it to last a little longer. I want it all to last a little longer.


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Become.

She sits in front of my easel, my brushes, this portrait I painted of Beverly Cleary. She made a path for me to travel when I was just a child with her books, Ramona the Pest, Henry and the Paper Route, Henry and Ribsy… and on and up the open road of imagination. What a gift she gave. How could I not bring her on my continuing journey?!

And it is so light, this joy — so easy to carry. No need for baggage.

Joy is different from memory. Memories can fade in and out. Change. Be forgotten. Some can even weigh us down. But that joy — oh, that joy, those feelings that permanently uplift, light the way… these are the things we must focus on – place front and center. So when faced with our challenges, our work, our daily life, the first thing we see is that upturned brow of curiosity that says, “I am interested,” — that gentle smile that says, “I know you can do this!”, that face that says, “I’ll be with you along the way.”

It is a blessing to find that joy — perhaps even more, to one day become that joy. I raise my brow, my lips, my brushes, my pen…and give thanks for the well-lit path before me.