Jodi Hills

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


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Waking in color.

I can still feel it when I go into the hospital – any hospital – any country… I am a teenager, and the doctor’s are rebuilding me joint by joint. Most of the time, it started the same. In the dark of early morning. (I still don’t like waking in the dark.) We’d often stay, my mom and I, at my Aunt Karolyn’s house in Minneapolis. She would take us out at the crack of dawn. None of us having slept. Anxiety that we all carried in different ways behind slight smiles. Quietly we’d weave into the shift worker’s traffic. She’d drop us off at the nearest door. Forms were filled. Each letter rising higher in my throat. Gowns. IVs. I can feel my heart tighten as I type. I don’t know if it was worse being put to sleep, or waking up from the anesthesia. I threw up going in, and coming out. But I made it. We made it.

Wheeled back into that generic room, she stood out like a flower – my mom. Tall. Dressed in yellow, or turquoise. Her signature colors. Her signature warmth. And I was saved. Over and over we did it. 20 times. And she was there.

Nurses would often say, “Oh, I can tell you are mother and daughter.” “Oh, yes, you look alike.” “I can see it!” And mostly what I felt was relief. Yes, it was a compliment, I thought she was beautiful, is beautiful. But what I saw in her, every time I woke up in a strange room, a sterile room, she was color, she was familiar, she was warmth, she was home. And if they could see even a tiny bit of that in me, then I thought, now I don’t just have something to save me, I have something to give.

And I do. I try anyway. In every card, painting, book. I want you to feel the comfort in it all. The words. The paint. I want you to awaken to the colors I’ve been given. The colors I share with you. The colors that are bursting inside of you right now. Feel the compliment of love. The security. The joy. The love, and then pass it on. We’ll all be saved.


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Ten thousand and one.

Maybe it’s because the brain and the heart are composed of about seventy percent of it. Or maybe it’s because I grew up in the midst of 10,000 lakes. But I have always been comforted by the water. The color blue.

It feels certain – this color blue. Like the words of a favorite song. Words that come so easily. Without thinking. Rolling gently in. Words that comfort. Caress. Hold. Gather. So I paint it, this song, this color and I am home. 

When I was a young girl, and we lost our home, we (my mother and I) moved to an apartment. And when you lose a home, you don’t just lose the walls — you lose the familiar, the comfort, the neighborhood. You lose the sound of screen doors swinging. Mothers calling kids home for dinner. 

Everything changed. I could no longer identify the cars passing merely by the sound of their tires on the gravel. I couldn’t smell the lake from across the street. I had lost the certainty of “blue.”

And being young, I could only see so far ahead. I believed what was in front of me. I believed there were these 10,000 lakes. No more. I believed there was a home. One home. No more. We were given only so much. 

OH, to be so joyfully wrong! Well, I was right about one thing – we are “given” a finite amount – but that doesn’t mean we can’t go out and get more on our own. Find more. Search. Build. I learned if I wanted to have a home, I had to make one. First in my heart. Then in my head. I needed to feel the water flowing through them both. The cool, comforting blue carried within. This was my home. Is my home. My 10,001. (and counting.) No one can ever take that away.

The world, people, will always throw out limitations. Struggles. It, they, will try to block you, box you in. But you don’t have to be one of them. They can tell you that “you can’t…” “you don’t…” you aren’t…” But listen to the water. It’s still flowing. Softly, gently, telling you, “aaah, but I am!”


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Further, deeper…

Before I could ride a two-wheeler to Lake Latoka, my mother would have to drive me there. Well, she didn’t have to, but she did. And certainly it wasn’t fun for her. She didn’t like heat, nor the water… But still, I would tug on her shirt, as she bent over the laundry that couldn’t be done during the work week, the laundry that ate up her Saturday morning. “Please, just for a few minutes,” I would plead. I didn’t know then that it would mean staying up hours later, when she was already tired, or maybe I wouldn’t have asked, but I’m not sure that I carried enough empathy at this young stage of life. Already sweating in my one-piece sailor swimsuit, I’d smile into her eyes, and she put down the basket. 

She placed her folding lawn chair as near to the shade of the one tree on the beach as possible. I splashed and waved and swam, as the straps of the chair made a pattern on the back of her thighs. All the youth of the surrounding Latoka area screamed, “look at me!” as their heads and feet popped up through water! The most comforting thought perhaps that I’ve ever had, is not feeling the need to yell the same. Because each time I turned, or spun, or splashed, or did a trick, and then looked up, her eyes were directly on me. She was always watching. Always there. The life-line that allowed me to go further, deeper, because she, you see, connected me to the shore.  

People often ask me, “How did you have the courage to start your own business…to dare expose yourself through word and canvas…move to another country???” I suppose the answer to it all, I always had the comfort of shore.


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A place for us.

Before my mother became the voice of Independant School District #206, she worked at 3M. I was pretty young. I have no idea what she did. She brought me to the office one day after school. It was huge. I saw rows of desks. Some men in polyester suits and wide ties. Women with phones attached to their heads. One man with hair greased smooth, bent down, reached out his hand and tossled my hair. I didn’t like it. I didn’t know him. His smile was too toothy. “We invented this here,” he proudly held out the famous yellow sticky note pad. “You can write all your notes on it,” he said, still grinning. So far, I had nothing to keep track of, nothing but the hem of my mother’s skirt.

I had to go to the bathroom. We walked through the kitchen. I could smell the coffee in continuous brew. I imagined it took a lot of coffee to keep those faces in constant grin. A woman was bending near a giant machine. It had a glass cover, displaying food items. She pulled a long silver handle, and the tin can made a thud. I’m not sure I could read yet, but I saw the picture on the can. It was spaghetti. Spaghetti in a can. Now this was something! It was ready? Immediately? I couldn’t believe my eyes! What an invention!

I begged and pleaded. I had to have a can of spaghetti. I must. It’s right there! Please! Please! I wasn’t one to really beg for things. And she was at work. No need for a scene. “But you’re not going to like it,” she said. I disagreed. Oh yes, I would love it! I returned from the bathroom to find my mother with a can at a table. I beamed. I beamed as I flipped the top open. I beamed as I inserted the plastic spoon. And then I stopped beaming. It was horrible. I didn’t want her to have to come here, every day. I didn’t know what “better for her” was, but I know I wanted it.

She worked at the clinic for a short time after this. And then the dream job — Alexandria Public Schools. Some kids would always ask me, “You like having your mother at the school? Right there with you???” And I did. I really did. I was proud of her. And with all due respect to Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, I was so happy that she found her place – her place to shine. And each time I walked past the large plate windows of the Superintendent’s office, on my way to gym, or band or choir, she would wave and smile. I waved back, and yes, I beamed! We joyfully kept “track of each other.” Always have. Always will.


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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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How it should be.

It was at the State Theatre in Minneapolis that I first heard the Indigo Girls. Dayton’s used to put on an extreme fashion show each year for charity. Oh, just saying Dayton’s does something to my heart.) The theatre was dark and suddenly they blasted the intro for Fugitive by the Indigo girls, and the first model stepped out. It was a mixture of clothes and music, and city and night, art and diversity, and they sang, “Remember this as how it should be.” Oh, how I wanted to remember. 

My mother and I loved Dayton’s. Saturday mornings. Always before lunch. Trying on clothes at our thinnest. No need for food. We were fueled. Hands gently touching racks. Filling dressing rooms. Mirrors admired. Compliments given. Hearts full. Then with hands bagged it was off to lunch. To sip at the wine, and pull out each item, tell the story, live it with laughter and praise, and before I knew the words to the song I thought, “Remember this as how it should be.”

I was mowing the lawn yesterday. Listening to a podcast. They were interviewing the Indigo Girls. I couldn’t hear every word over the hum of the motor, but my heart… I can’t tell you what the models were wearing that beautiful evening, but I can recreate the feeling of hope and desire and pure excitement for a life recognized. I don’t recall every garment tried on or purchased with my mother, but as I sit here in my new Saturday morning, my heart is filled with laughter and praise. 

I suppose that’s the way it is for everything. And that’s how it should be — the experience. Today we plan to go visit a vineyard. I know I will forget the wine. Probably even the place. But the time…my heart is already singing.


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Mon préféré

We got a new refrigerator yesterday. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that it’s the most beautiful fridge in the world. My very favorite. It is shiny and clean, and it works! Sure, it doesn’t have all the “bells and whistles” – to be honest, I’m not even certain what that would include. But I’m in love with it. The rack that holds the water bottles – how could anything be so magnificent? It’s ours. And it’s my favorite.

I hold that feeling as I climb the stairs to begin my daily routine. The first of which is to practice my French. I have found a new website that offers up random questions that you can discuss. Today’s question was “Who is your favorite author, and why?” In my office, I am surrounded by books. I love to read. I love writers. I love words. To Kill a Mockingbird sits right behind my head. It is glorious. I remember the first time I read it, and the last (which won’t be the last). Ernest Hemingway rests beneath it, reminding me “there would always be the spring.” There is Elizabeth Strout who so elegantly takes me back to Maine. Joan Didion who inspires me daily. George Saunders. Joyce Carol Oates. Virginia Woolf who challenged me. And John Kennedy Toole who made me laugh out loud by myself. I won’t go through every book and author — there are just too many. And I love them all. But the question lingers, and I think about each word of it. It isn’t who wrote your favorite book. The question is, who is your favorite author. To which I answer, it’s me. Hold on, hold on, hold on… not so fast to judge me… let me explain.

I am not the best writer. I look up to all the authors that I have mentioned and more! So many more. I envy the perfect words they choose – in the perfect order. They are magnificent. And I haven’t sold the most books. I won’t be on everyone’s best seller list. Most people won’t even know my name. No, I am not the best writer. But I will tell you this. Writing has always been my comfort, my joy. I have told you from the age of five, I began writing and drawing. No matter what I was feeling, I would go into my room and put it down on paper. Words have always saved me — from the darkest of times, and they have rejoiced with me in the brightest. They have held me. They have lifted me. And so I write. Every day. And I love it. So, yes, I am my favorite author. I would hope the same for all, with everything!!

I have to believe I am living with the best husband. That I have the best mother. That I am living my best life. (And I have the best refrigerator). Otherwise, what am I in this for??

I want you to be in love with your life. As I have said before, Do something you love. Be someone you love.

Good morning, my friends. Welcome to the day — it just might be my (your) favorite!


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A berry in the window.

I’m currently reading the book, “Sorrow and Bliss,” by Meg Mason. The main character is remembering a period of time when her mother, a sculptor, would get lost in her work and not want to be disturbed. (Her mother is quite the eccentric character and a delicious read.) During these periods she would put a note on her studio for her two daughters, “Girls, before knocking, ask yourself this, is anything actually on fire?”  I’m still laughing. 

I was still a teenager when my mother started dating. She met a man, we’ll call him Roger, (because that was his name). When she (they) wanted a little alone time, she hung a decorative berry in the window of our garden apartment on Jefferson Street to alert me. It was a small strawberry, made of plaster, with a tiny string. So unassuming. So telling. If, when returning home on my ten-speed bicycle, I saw the berry in the window, I knew to keep riding. And joyfully, I did. 

I knew my mother was human when I saw her cry. Sorrow. It was good to now see her humanness for (forgive me) berry different reasons. Bliss. I can’t see a strawberry now without smiling.

I put up my painted berry today, in hopes that she can feel that girlish heart. In hopes that she will know, I will do anything for her to feel that way again. So I keep riding, round and round the block.


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My mom thinks I’m pretty.

I made a magnet of that years ago. It made me laugh. I used to say it, when I made a mistake, or did something stupid…”My mom thinks I’m pretty.”  (as if to say, well, sure I did this, but nevertheless…)

It still makes me laugh, but I suppose, there’s a lot of truth behind it. I knew, I know, always, even in my lowest moments, in her lowest moments, she loves me. And that tickles my heart in the most glorious way.

And to think she knew how to do it, when her mother (bless her heart) wasn’t fast and loose with the compliments (it just wasn’t the time, nor the way.) But if I think again, maybe that’s exactly why she knew how to do it. 

It isn’t because they’ve never been knocked down, these people who stand so tall — I think it’s probably because they have. Surround yourself with these people, these unexpected beauties! They will have a story to tell and a heart to share. They will make you laugh, and help you cry. Not much more beautiful than that!


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Heart song.

My mother had just begun piano lessons. Only a little girl. I don’t know how many lessons she had, but not many, and it was in these few moments that this piano teacher (and I loosely use the word teacher, because clearly she was not, as you will see in a second), it was this awful woman that said, not to my grandparents (which would have been bad enough) no, she said it to my mother, this sweet little hopeful fingered girl, she told her, “You’re wasting your parents’ money.” I’m still aghast! What a soul crushing thing to say. Now, my mother may have never become a concert pianist, but we’ll never know. And it was only for her to decide. But she didn’t get that chance. Then.

Most of our children of the world will not become professional athletes, professional singers, or dancers, or painters. But we aren’t raising “professionals,” we are raising humans. Humans with thoughts and hopes and dreams and souls. And it takes a long time to build a soul, filling it with music and movement and kindness and possibilities. And we should never be defined by money (I guess that’s what we are basing the word professional on). We can still be dancers, even if we make our living at the bank. We can be singers if we sing. Painters if we paint. And we get to decide.

It took a long time, but she got there, my mother…After all the tears and questions she realized that only she could decide if her heart was disposable or not…and it wasn’t. It was bruised and possibly even broken at times, but the amazing organ that it was, is, it kept beating, keeping time to her own true rhythm, the beat that would soothe her, save her, and play once again, the lovely heart song that only she could create.