Jodi Hills

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


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Welcome to the garden.

Our fruit trees had a bad summer. Wait, that could be a mistake…I don’t know if their summer was good or not… maybe they had a great summer, taking this time off. What I should say is that they didn’t produce any of their usual fruit.  

This winter, there was a sudden warm up, then cold again, and they got very confused. It threw off their timing. And they took the summer off. To regroup.  They are still lovely. They flowered. Greened. Stood tall in the summer sun. Still valuable. Still part of our garden community.  I would, will, never stop loving them. 

Trini Lopez is the name of our lemon tree by the front door. He has yet to produce a lemon, but again, I love him. He greets me every morning by the kitchen window, with a green so full, leaves so hopeful, that I think, I, too, want to grow.  

This patience that I have with our garden, I fear, maybe I’m not that patient with humans. I am quick (I hate to admit) to think people are lazy. But maybe I, we, don’t always know what the person is going through. Maybe they aren’t being lazy at all. Maybe they are recovering from their own difficult winters. Maybe they are slowly, as best they can, growing into themselves. Finding their way to the sun. Maybe they are offering, not the usual gifts, but other ones. Maybe this year’s fruit is a delicate shade. Maybe this year’s fruit is a place to lean on, in the comfort of silence. 

You know that friend, (I hope we all have one), with whom you can sit, without words or entertainment. Just sit in the comfort and safety of their company. I want to be that friend. I want to be as patient with love, with growth, as the trees in our garden. I want to give you (and myself) a chance to grow, or better yet, to just be. To calmly, daily, without demand, or judgement, greet those who dare the morning, and say, “Welcome to the garden.”


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A soft touch.

The dentist told me that I’m brushing my teeth too hard. That was humbling. You’d think after brushing my teeth this long, I would know how to do it. “Doucement,” she said. (Meaning gently.)

When they say it never rains here, it’s not like the song…we live in one of the sunniest parts of the world. It’s in my nature not to waste it. While the sun is shining I think, “I can do this, and this, and don’t forget… keep going…” And I like it. I enjoy it. I need it. But once in a while, it’s in my best interest to just slow down a little. The universe, being much more wise, saw that maybe it was time for me to be calm. But it took a darkening of the skies, and a few loud rumbles to make it happen.

I turned on my desk lamp. Opened my sketchbook. Took out the colored pencils. Rolled them through my fingers. I like the sound of the wood clinking with possibility. I sketched out a bird. Slowly. Colored in it’s wings. Feathers. Found a pastel stick to create the white areas. Pastels require the softest of touch. Doucement. And there was my bird. My gentle, little, rainy day bird.

Sometimes we are hardest on ourselves. Impatient. Unforgiving. And we need a little reminder to be gentle. Take this bird to be just that. And be kind today — to yourself. Hold the pastel of your heart softly, without judgement, and know that it’s not wasteful to be still. It’s healthy, necessary. Doucement, my friends…Doucement.


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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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The birthday gift.

It was my 7th birthday. Barb Duray was there. Wendy Schoeneck. And about 10 other girls. I remember Wendy because she gave me a set of paper dolls – Buffy and Jody paper dolls, from the television show Family Affair. We didn’t have cable television, so I had never seen the show. I was devastated to learn that Jody not only spelled the name wrong, but that he was the boy. I still thanked her for the present.

I remember Barb because of a game that we played. (Let me preface this by saying all of our games were made-up. We didn’t have the means to hire clowns, or play music. Cakes were homemade and so were the games. I don’t say this regretfully. No. This was beautiful. And I give thanks for it!) We kneeled on the seat of the chair. A mason jar sat on the floor. We had a sack of my mother’s clothespins. The goal was to drop as many clothespins into the jar. The girl with the most got a prize. The game was close. I was winning. Barb was right behind me. Before it was my turn again, my mom whispered in my ear – “Let her win. Let her get the prize.” She knew that I was already getting presents, and that my friend would be so happy. She was a giver. Graceful. She was lovely. I wanted to be just like her. I missed the next clothespin, and Barb won the prize, but I received a gift that has lasted to this day — the joy of giving – my mother gave me that.

It is my mother’s birthday today. Just as she taught me, I ask you to be kind to one another. Be gracious. Be giving. Celebrate. Bake the cake. Lick the bowl. Light the candles. Play the games. Create memories. These are the gifts of a lifetime!

Happy Birthday, Mom! Thank you!


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Lucky.

Most of the houses on VanDyke road had screen doors for the summer. There is a freedom in the sound of that screen door gently banging itself shut, because no matter who’s door you were racing through, who’s house you were leaving, you simply ran fearless out into the wild, the wild of a gravel road and more time than our school free minds could imagine… still, we ran, with newly tanned legs, in and out of neighbors’ houses, never looking for cars, or danger of any kind. 

It is something to grow up in a neighborhood. Not just a place where people lived near one another, but a true neighborhood, where you were part of something bigger than yourself. You were part of every home behind each swinging door. You were cared for, and watched over. You were free to roam under every sun, and gathered home each night with your mother’s call from the front stoop. To look, wander, and explore, unafraid, that made us not only rich, but the luckiest kids alive. 

They say if you see a bird looking away from itself, it is a sign of good luck because it means that bird doesn’t feel like it has to protect itself from danger. I suppose that’s what we were — young birds – flitting and flying about Van Dyke Road, never worried, free to look in any direction. 

And then one day, we all flew away, with all of our wildly different high hopes.  

What a gift we were given. These open skies over Van Dyke Road. Sometimes, even now, if the summer breeze gently blows my cares away, I look around without worry, and think, how lucky I was, to learn to fly.


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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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The yellow chair.

She was the ex-wife of Hubert Humphrey’s son. When she called I didn’t know that. She just said she was interested in two paintings – The yellow chair, and The truth about you.  I was thrilled. Yes, of course, I could deliver. The yellow chair was huge, but I was fueled with excitement.  Before I brought the paintings in, she walked me around her place. I was surprised by all the dignitaries hanging on her wall. Was that her with the president? With the queen? Who was this woman? I just kept smiling. She kept talking. And picture by picture, word by word she revealed who she was — her world living as a Humphrey – (the closest I had been before was to the airport).  We had tea, (the first time I had ever had tea), and she told me of her marriage, her divorce, the indiscretions, and I felt like I was in a movie. We hung both paintings, and I drove away. Forever changed — not because I was now hanging next to the closest thing I knew to “royalty” — I’ve never cared that much about that — no, it was because I was let in, let into her world, and trusted with her story. And to me, that’s everything. 

I was in the seventh grade when I wrote my first novel (forgive me, it was really just a long story.) Hand written on lined paper. Stapled. I read it to my friend, Cindy Lanigan. I have no idea now what it was about. I don’t even have a copy. But I remember sitting in my yellow bedroom, reading it to her. It is terrifying to share your creations – your life – your heart. But she let me in. She listened and responded and we talked about life and Carol Burnett and everything seemed achievable.  Quite possibly giving me the courage to continue. 

What a thing it is to be let in. I carry with me every open door. Every open heart. Every person who smiled on me, and listened. Who trusted on me, and shared. And I am forever home. Forever possible.


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The sun isn’t lost.

On the box it said four to five weeks. But yesterday, just two weeks in, this one tulip made its entrance. Popping up to say hello. Telling the others, “It’s not so bad at all, once you make it through the dirt. In fact, it’s lovely. Blue sky. This glorious light. Come on up!”  

Change can be so difficult. And we don’t always get to be prepared before we’re asked to grow. Struggling through lessons of muddy soil. Life will get you dirty. No doubt about that. But then the sun. That glorious sun. Always there, smiling, even when we try to take credit, saying, “Look what I did! I found the sun!”  

Now that’s not to say you can’t be proud of yourself when you get through. That’s a big deal! And you should be happy about that. And perhaps the best way to celebrate is to show the others that it can be done. Bring them along. Because you never know which role you will be in. Some days you will be the strong one, popping up early, other days you will be deep, deep in the soil. Be gentle when you lead. Gentle when you follow. We’re all just trying to get to the sun.


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Full bloom.

I know we could have purchased tulips, but they brought these to us, from Amsterdam. Native tulip bulbs. Spectacular. We dug little rows in the ground with the tiny rake and shovel from our greenhouse. Of course I was smiling, not just because of the gifted tulips, but because I had been here before, in the spring of kindness.

I was five when I saw it wrapped in the garage. Easter morning. Not chocolate, or a bunny of any kind, but a tiny set of garden tools, just my size. In the brightest of colors. A green shovel. A red hoe and a yellow rake. Colors so shiny, they were spring itself. They were bright and simple. 

Not all the days to follow would be like this. Something in my heart told me to hang on. Something in my heart told me that this is what would carry me — moments of kindness. The shiny moments of people who care, and dare to show it.

We placed the bulbs in the ground. Four to five weeks it said on the box from Holland – that’s how long it would take. I laughed to myself, knowing, in my heart, they were already in full bloom — the spring of kindness.


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Rabbits and bells.

I still get excited. And why not!? Everything is in bloom. There is candy on the table and kindness in the air. Eggs of many colors. Family soon to arrive. Everything feels like hope.

My first Easter in France was so different from that of my childhood. There is no Easter bunny here. They have bells. Bells deliver the candy and hide it. Not in baskets, but behind trees and throughout the garden. Bells, I thought, how ridiculous – everyone knows a rabbit… I know. I heard it too. And so I joyously rang the bell, and let myself believe. It made no difference how the magic arrived. It was there, filling the trees. 

My mother used to change the words to Peter Cottontail. As she skipped through the house with a basket of candy she sang, “Here comes Peter Cotton-fuzz, best little bunny that ever was…”  Different words. Still magic!!!

There is room in the sky for all of it. All of us. Whether you celebrate Passover, Easter, or Ramadan, or just the bloom of spring. I think we all want to believe in the best of us. The renewal of goodness. The spirit of kindness. The lightness of hope. Let the message be delivered in every way possible – even on wings!