Jodi Hills

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


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Beside still waters.

“If wishes were fishes, we’d all be in the brook.” My grandma used to tell me that. Maybe that’s one reason why I like the water so much.

We closed the pool down for the season. It’s a process. One that I never dreamed I would ever have to learn. Coming from the land of 10,000 lakes, nature took care of all that on her own.  We vacuumed and brushed. Swept. Scooped. Added the extra chemicals. Covered it. Then placed a net on top of the cover. I got a little dizzy, bending over, putting the stakes in the ground to hold the net. I leaned against the pool house, gave thanks, and said goodbye to the season. I know another will come. I believe in it. 

And in this new season, I will wish new wishes, and be buoyed by all the ones that have come true. And there have been so many. Pools and pools and lakes upon lakes filled with blessings. Oceans have been crossed and filled. I know how lucky I am. When I stop to lean against the sturdy of gratitude, beside still waters, I am saved.


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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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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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Picture this.

By the end of the day, I am tired — which is a good thing. It’s a lot to keep one’s house in order. I don’t mean making sure there are no dishes in the sink (Well, of course I mean that too. I hate dirty dishes in the sink) but I mean the bigger picture. The bigger picture for me is working at my craft, painting, writing; learning (oh boy, I have so much to learn, not the least of which, French, and the toughest one, learning each day to be a better human); attending to the needs of those closest to me, which often includes just listening, caring, loving. My big picture might seem small, but it seems to fill my day. I can’t understand how people have the time to police the actions, thoughts, beliefs of others. It seems to me we all have enough to do to keep ourselves in order. How little exists in the life of a person who tries to control someone else?

Now I’m not saying we turn a blind eye to the events around the world. No. Absolutely not. (This for me falls under the being a better human category.) We stand up for what we believe in. But, in my humble, and maybe naive mind, I don’t think standing means knocking down the so-called others. But for one, aren’t we all others?

Being a human. This is something. Overwhelming at times for sure. But when my big picture gets way too big, I try to simply look around. Is there love? Yes. Is there hope? Sure! Is there joy? And how! Is the sink clear? You bet! (or that’s betcha for my Minnesota friends) I grab the nearest sketchbook and paint a pear. I call my mother. I kiss my husband. I take a walk in the sun. More than enough to fill my heart, to fill my day.


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Joie du jour.

We have a small group of orange lilies that grow wild in our yard, along with large patches of purple irises. They are so beautiful. I love fresh flowers in the house, so one year I cut several bouquets and brought them in. They died almost immediately.

If you know me, you know I love words. There are a few though, that I don’t like hearing — for example, “should have…” — “Oh, you should have done it this way…” (when obviously I didn’t or we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and like Cher and everyone knows, I can’t turn back time.). Or “supposed to” — “You’re supposed to do it like this, because everyone does.” (I learned a long time ago, I am not everyone, nor, really, is anyone.)

We all learn and grow in our way. What if we allowed each other to do this?! What a glorious, colorful, beautiful world this would be.

I step outside this morning into a sea of purple. They are beautiful, just as, and where they are! Good morning, flowers! Good morning all!


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The unobstructed view.

We pass by the Sainte Victoire mountain almost every day. I can see why artists like Cezanne painted it again and again. Every day it changes colors. The shapes are magnificent from every angle. I want to capture all the variations, but the problem I face is finding the unobstructed view.

There is an angle that is absolutely stunning on the road to Meyreuil. We have pulled over so many times, trying to capture it with different lenses, but something is always in the way. The freeway. The road. The poles – oh, the poles. The poles with their wires. If I want to create the image, I will have to paint it. See beyond the obstructions and paint what I love so dearly.

I’m willing to do that for my art. I hope I’m willing to do that for my life, for the lives of those around me — see beyond the obstructions. And there are many. It’s easy to get lost in the politics, the religion, the language, the color, the age, but I want to see beyond, into the hearts and minds of others, and even myself. Because look, just look at the view, beyond all those poles and wires, it’s pretty amazing! YOU are amazing! Can you see it?!


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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!


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Feel like blooming.

There is something to the spring cleaning. The refresh. And it’s probably no surprise that the new Home Edit series was just released on Netflix. I will admit that I am excited by their organization. Inspired to do my own. This, mixed with trees in bloom, the flowers singing along with the birds, I begin.

I am not one who believes I have to buy more things to get my old things in order. No judgements, just me. I’ve always liked shopping my own dwelling. And I do. Frequently. I started with a good clean of the bathroom. Changed out the painting. Changed the postcard. Took the candle that I was gifted for Christmas out of its red container (red wouldn’t do) – put that candle into an appropriate container (a previously used up candle), and lit it, of course. And I picked a small flowering stem from our garden. As we say here, quite loosely I might add, Voila!

There is something quite satisfying about a spring refresh, and I slept well. The next morning, not quite awake, I turned on the bathroom light, and my heart smiled to the tips of my mouth. That, my friends, is refreshing.

I’ve started tackling my office. And it occurred to me, maybe I could do this within, within myself. An edit. Let go of the old feelings I’m not using anymore, the ones just cluttering up space, gathering dust…wouldn’t that be something! And even if it lasted for a day, a season, and I did it again, wouldn’t that, just like the spring birds, give my heart something to sing about! I think so! My inner voices must deserve as much attention as the shelf in my office. And so I begin. The load a little lighter, a little cleaner, in my house, in my heart. I smile, and feel like blooming.


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Fortune.

In grade school we made simple origami “fortune tellers.” Parts of the “fortune teller” were labeled with numbers that served as options for a player to choose from, and on the inside were eight flaps, each concealing a message. The person operating the fortune teller manipulated the device with their fingers, based on the choices made by the player, and finally one of the hidden messages was revealed.


Oh, how everyone loved this game! And I did too! But I think what I loved most of all was the paper itself. Folded, manipulated, decorated. While everyone waited for their fortune to be told, I think I knew then that my fortune was actually in the paper itself. In the creating.


Yesterday, my publisher and I were making plans for new prints to be made on new paper. We were exchanging emails with different paper samples. And my heart ran with the wobbly legs of youth, chasing my fortune across the schoolyard playground.
Isn’t it wonderful to still be chasing! Trying new things. Learning new things. Being alive.


I hold the corners of the paper in my hand. We all do. And we choose. We choose hearts racing, and we live this glorious day!


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Nothing wasted.


“Inspire” is a tricky word. I think a lot of people want someone or something to inspire them. They want the “other” to do the work. But I’m not sure that can really ever happen. You have to want to be inspired. The receiver has to do the work. For example: living here in France, I can say that I receive a lot of inspiration from the Sainte Victoire mountain. Now, this giant rock isn’t really doing anything. It sits there. But if I watch it – watch it change colors in the different light, watch it turn black and gray under a cloud, turn so white that it’s almost lavender in the summer sun – if I do this, really see it then I am inspired. If I climb up its steep and rocky slope, breathe from my belly to my toes, rubber my legs, pump my arms, reach the summit, then really let it take my breath away – then I am inspired! If I paint it. Photograph it. Wave at it as we drive by – I receive all that it has to give. Inspiration is in the work of the receiver.


Cezanne painted the mountain countless times. He painted a simple apple again and again. He created his own inspiration. Some might look at my sketch book and ask, Why are you painting so many apples? Paint something different. But you see, I am. Every apple IS different. Every apple is unique in its shape and color. But you have to want to see it. And I do want to see it. I want to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I want to find the inspiration in everything – every day. It is on me to find it. Feel it. Use it. Enjoy it.


Today’s yellow sun jumps from the sky into my hands and onto the page. Nothing wasted.