Jodi Hills

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


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Give it a name.

I called it “the plant.” I’ve always believed if it’s special, you give it a name. Sure, it did house my car at night, but in the daytime, it was pure magic. I hung canvas on the walls and created a world, created a life. Lit by the glorious sun, and Christmas lights in the back, this was my sanctuary. It was always open — for creativity, for anyone to visit. And all who did visit the plant, were free to fling a brush of paint — to fling a brush in celebration, in frustration, whatever was needed. Because, like the song says, “Love made sweet and sad the same.” And that’s what we did, you see, made it all into the beauty of living, right there, by name, painted on the walls of my garage, on the walls of my heart.

If we are open, we will get to feel it all — everything between sweet and sad. We have to feel it all. And oh, how it matters – this beauty of living color — all of whom are let inside. In my heart, love will always have a name.


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Barely more than air.

It was common knowledge on the playground of Washington Elementary that if you skinned your knee, the immediate solution was just to blow on it. Because the monkey bars, swings, jungle gym, all rested on paved ground, this was an everyday occurance. And it was your truest friends who, when the scraped area was just out of reach, took over the duties, and eased the sting with this balm, barely more than air. 

I want you to know that I felt that yesterday, as you commented again and again with words of love for my mother.. Each letter, each phrase, relieving the pain of my skinned heart. 

We made it through recess together. Limping, hand in sweaty hand, we went back to the classroom with the love and knowledge gained on this sometimes battlefield. It’s comforting to know we can still do that for each other. Thank you, my friends, from the bottom, top and middle, of my ever-healing heart.


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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 promised land.

“Don’t touch them,” I heard him say, while I was touching them. It was my grandfather’s voice in my head. He had said it when I found a fallen bird’s nest on his farm. The little bird beaks seemed to be crying out for me, but he said no, if I touched them, the mother would never come back. But surely it couldn’t be the same for bunnies I thought. Not the same for these beautiful cuddly little bunnies that I found on this day in the field next to our house. Bunnies were meant to be touched. To be held. They were accessible. Not like birds. Why, there was the Easter Bunny, and Bugs Bunny… chocolate bunnies, stuffed bunnies… Yes, I told myself, bunnies were meant to be held. There were three of them. No mother in sight. I placed one from each hand, back with the other. They squirmed and nestled and smiled. See, I told myself, they were just fine. The mother would come back.

I told my brother that afternoon what I had found. How I had picked them up. “Now you have to kill them,” he said.

“What?????? Noooooo! I would never!”

“Well, they are going to die anyway. Starve to death. Because the mother doesn’t like your smell.” And he walked away.

I stood motionless. How could he deliver this news and just leave me standing there. I was a murderer, and apparantly, I smelled.

I thought about getting my bow and arrow. The plastic one my aunt had purchased for me at Target. I could “do the right thing” (according to my brother) and kill them. I went into the garage to find my bow and arrow. I touched the string. Slid my finger along the faux feathers of the arrow. There was no way I could kill them. No way. I sat in the gravel at the end of the driveway, now not even certain that my own mother would return to me from work. Why would she? I was a smelly murderer.

When she finally pulled in, she didn’t even put the car in the garage. She stopped beside me. Opened the car door. I told her everything. She assured me that I was nothing of the sort, that mothers do come back. And as I sat on her lap next to the steering wheel, I could only believe her. She was proof.

The next day I searched for the bunnies. Praying for their mother’s return, as the weeds scratched my legs. I searched for hours, or maybe ten minutes, but there was no sign of any of them. No babies. No mother. My own mother went straight to the happily ever after…. “See, she said, “the mother came back and brought them to a new house and they are all just fine.” I believed her.

Years later, the first grown-up book we were assigned in middle school was “Of mice and men.” Lennie, the rabbits. It was all so sad. I wept for the story. For them. And I wept because I felt it all slipping away. I knew now. How could I go forward with this knowledge of unhappy endings? How did they carry it? I wept for my brother. My grandfather. How long had they carried this knowledge? I wept for my mother, who had to have known, but still lived on as proof — still passed on the possibility of happy endings. They all carried it, as best they could.

John Steinbeck says, “In every bit of honest writing in the world, there is a base theme. Try to understand men (humans), if you understand each other you will be kind to each other.” I would have to choose my own path. Walk in my own truth. I suppose we all have to do that. And with each word that I write, maybe I understand them, and myself, just a little bit more. See the beauty of it all, just a little bit more. This I can carry. I smile, and walk on.


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Washed clean.

I walked through the garage and into our front yard. The grass was damp. I could see that Cathy was in the empty lot before Dynda’s house. It had just rained, this being spring. I didn’t walk on the road because I didn’t want to get my shoes dirty. I chose wet instead. I crossed through the line of trees that separated the lots. The leaves dampened my shirt. She sat there, near a big puddle. Her hands were covered in mud up to her elbows. It was hard for me to breathe. “Let’s make mud pies,” she said. I liked neither mud, nor pie, but I did like Cathy, so I walked a little closer. She passed to me a clump of wet soil, as if it were a gift. I held on for as long as I could, mere seconds. “My mom is calling,” I lied. She looked confused as I dropped the muck. I ran with arms extended. “Maaaaaaaaaaaaam!  Mom!” I yelled as I got closer. She ran out the door with the urgency I required. “What????” she asked. Not seeing my most obvious emergency. I thrust my hands in her direction. I shook them towards her. How could she not see?  Look! My hands. She smiled in acknowledgement. She knew I didn’t like my hands dirty. “Please…” my outthrust hands pleaded. She grabbed the hose, and I was saved.

I don’t know why it terrified me so – to have dirty hands. But it did. My mother never made fun of me. Never questioned why. Never told me how to feel. She just helped me wash them. And later, we had a good laugh. 

Through the years, there would be countless times that I, or she, would find ourselves in a mess. Sometimes created. Sometimes thrust upon us. But I never felt judged. We simply helped each other cry — washed ourselves clean. Helped each other grow. Helped each other laugh. And we were saved. 

I hope you have this. This person beside you. Who will reach out to your dirtiest of hands. Who will help you cry. Help you laugh. Just be there. Be there for you as you battle through love and fear. Battle through the letting in and the letting go. Be there when you call their name, with outstretched hands. And even more than this, I hope you ARE this person. (Just as I hope that I am.) 

Be there, as we all try to come clean.


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Worth saving.

The summer months off from school, we called vacation. And they were. We didn’t go anywhere. No hotels or restaurants. No fancy monuments. No positioning for a selfie – I didn’t even own a camera. But it was vacation. A celebration every day. 

I still feel it. Waking up each morning with the summer light. But I have to make an effort. Certainly. Because that feeling can easily get lost in a pile of laundry. 

Yesterday was a beautiful summer day. Blue sky. Green grass. Birds singing. Sprinklers watering. But there was work to be done. Washing. Ironing. Beds to be made. Fighting with the duvet covers, I could feel the “vacation” slipping away. And we’re not given that many. It had to be saved. It was worth saving. 

So I grilled the shrimp. Sauteed the peas. Boiled the fresh pasta. Cut the homemade bread. Let the cheese breathe beside the wine. And we ate slowly in our summer kitchen restaurant. Our vacation was saved. I was saved. 

I was certain after every grade that my summer would never end. Even returning again and again to school, I believed in the eternity of summer. I guess I still do. The magic of my heart’s vacation — that is something to hold on to, something to be saved.


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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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Table by table.



We’re always told – “look at the big picture,” “the grand scheme of things.” I understand what that means and most of the time I agree, but I must admit, I can often be overwhelmed by the “grand scheme” of anything.

Every day I swim laps in the pool. Often times 100. But I never start out counting backwards from 100. I tell myself, just do twenty. And when I finish twenty, I think, well, 30 is easy, and I can do twenty easily later. So I do thirty. And slowly work my way to 50. 50 is fine for the day, and if I want to more later, I do it. And most days, I do. Et voila! 100.

This is the way I do most things. It works for me. Bit by bit. I need the tiny wins. So I let myself have them.

It wouldn’t be possible to paint a giant canvas every day. Not for me. It would take too much of my heart and soul and brain. So I make sketches. Small paintings. And it fills me. Gives me practice. Gives me joy. Confidence. Sets me up for the larger works. So I paint a small vase with a small apple on a small table. And it is complete. It is enough. I am enough. And I guess that’s where I’m trying to get to every day — where we all need to get to every day — that place where we know we are OK, we are good, we are enough.

Take the journey today. Lap by lap. Table by table. And know that you are enough. What could be more “grand” than that?


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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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Lifted.

All of the trees in my grandparents’ yard were climbable, I suppose, but especially one. It was one of the biggest. It faced the road. Someone, I don’t know who, had pounded in strips of wood. If you could get one foot on the lowest piece, and reach your hand up to another, and pull, with all of your might, then up you would go.

There were 27 of us grandchildren. That tree had been marked and carved by every kind of shoe. And it stood strong. As strong, I imagine, as our need to get higher, to see more. get above and beyond.

And we did. We climbed. Higher and higher. And then, each of us, on different days, different years, we got high enough, and brave enough, and off we flew. With all of our wildly different high hopes.

I have flown far and wide, with the memory of trees — the strength of those who gave me a start, a rung to climb. And I give thanks. For I have been lifted, daily, knowing, we never really fly alone.