Jodi Hills

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


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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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Proof.



In our travels, the greatest common denominator (look, I’m finally using that high school math) is the “selfie.” People taking pictures, seemingly, not of the experience they are having, but creating some sort of proof that they were there. For example, the amount of selfie sticks in Venice almost obstructed the 360 degrees of beauty. What are they missing in trying to gain all this proof?

When I cook, I like to serve everything on a platter. I like a good presentation. I like a set table. In two weeks of making meals at my mother’s house, I have yet to take a picture of the food.

My niece took us out for a joyful lunch yesterday. Not one picture of the food. I can still feel the hug hello. I can feel the hug goodbye. I remember the conversations. I’m still laughing. I can still hear both nephews saying “I love you.” Proof.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good story, a good photograph, a good memory. But I’m probably most pleased when I get home from a vacation, a lunch, an event, and think, “Oh, I was having so much fun, I forgot to take a picture.” My heart feels full. My brain races over the experience. My face opens in a continuous smile. And if those I’m with feel it too, then that’s all the proof I need – I was there – I am here!


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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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Happy Day!

I suppose it’s not that exciting to try something new on December 29th, or the 30th. Nobody blows a horn or lowers a ball. But I thought it was fun. On the 29th I painted a woman on a block of found wood, in a style I don’t normally do. Crisp outlines. Bright colors. It was a good lesson in determined strokes. On the 30th, I painted a bird on crafted paper. “Well, that’s not new,” you must be thinking, but this time, I did it all with the same brush. No relying on the tools of the trade – testing my patience and skill.

January is almost upon us. I used to go to the New York gift show every January. I would come home with hundreds of orders to fill. Looking at the pile of papers was incredibly overwhelming. So I didn’t. I taught myself to finish an order. One at a time. Complete the work, box it, label it, claim the victory, then go on to the next. Clearly I wasn’t the first to think of this, but it seems to be a lesson worth learning again and again.

Yes, today is New Year’s Eve! And that IS special! But so is tomorrow and the day after that, and the one after that. I don’t know what lies ahead. And I can’t plan the entire year. I wouldn’t even want to. Today my hands and heart will covered in December 31st, truly worthy of celebrating! Happy Day!


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Leap of faith.

It’s easy to put conditions on everything. “If the sun shines today, I’ll be happy.” “If this photo gets a lot of ‘likes’ I’ll be happy.” “If I get this done…” “If she tells me this…” “If he would just…” So many conditions. And I’m guilty of it too. We all want certain things. Need certain things. But what I want to do, what I’m trying to do, is start from a place of happiness. Start from a place of gratitude. Every morning. And then let the conditions fall away. Take away my ifs and just start being. Looking only inwardly. Not comparing my life, but living my life. The only competition should be with oneself. Am I living my best life?

When I visited the Brooklyn school district, I asked each young student what they were good at. They unapologetically told me of their gifts. Not bragging, but claiming their attributes. They were young enough to enjoy the gifts. I remember feeling the same. I was 5 or 6 when I began to paint. When I began to write. Not needing any encouragement. No social media. No pressure. I would go into my bedroom and color. Paint. Draw. Write. It was me. That’s what I cling to. What I believe in. The doing. The being. It’s a good day when I enjoy the process. Get the paint on my hands. Get the words on the page. Forever young enough to enjoy the gifts.

I read to the students my story “Leap of faith.” (The story of me daring to take my first real dive off the high tower.) When I was finished, one young man came up to me, and asked a very intelligent question. “What was that really about?” he asked, knowing it was deeper than just the water. “It’s about daring to be yourself.” I replied. He smiled like he knew. “I can do that,” he said. And he ran off to join his class. I know that he can!

“I don’t know if this is going to be the day that my feet will touch the sky…but I am going to climb that tower, and I am going to be scared and I’m going to be happy, and with the wind in my hair, my heart is going to lead me…and one way or another, I am going to fly!” (from the book, Leap of faith)

I’ll see you up there!


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Fumbling towards grace.

If you think you have nothing to learn, try inserting your USB cable into the port the first time. Nothing more humbling than taking three times to insert a two sided object.

Life can be just that – so humbling – but that’s not a bad thing. (I don’t mean in a degrading way… we should never “put down” or diminish.) But to be humble, is to be open. Open to learning. Trusting. Letting go. Open to the understanding that we are not the center of the universe, but a part of it all the same. A part of all the beautiful stumbling and fumbling along. And if we saw that, maybe we could be a little more gentle, not just with others, but with ourselves.

Oh, be it ever so humble, and the universe knows that it has to be, that we have to be…because it’s all impermanent…
but the grace that comes from the living in,
the living through, this can never be taken away.

It’s what keeps me going. Knowing all of this is inside of you, inside of me. And keeps me forever fumbling towards grace.


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Louder.

I didn’t say hardly anything from the 1st grade until 5th grade. I suppose I was a little afraid — but I think it was more that I was finding my voice. Listening. Gathering. Learning. Confidence fueled by friendship, in the 5th grade teamroom of Washington Elementary, I started to find it — this voice.

Barb, Lori, Wendy and I went into the janitor’s closet just across from our classroom. Sitting against the mops and buckets, we laughed and encouraged and talked. And talked. Perhaps it was the inspiration of hard work all around us, (for it is work), we gained the confidence of “something to say!” We were studying school safety, so the four of us decided to put on a play. Oh, the confidence of gathered youth! Of course we did! I went straight from “mouth closed” to “center stage.” They clapped for us, and we clapped for ourselves. What joy, this confidence. My tiny voice inside of me was getting louder and louder.

Every morning, in France, I go to my new “janitor’s closet” to work on my French. It is terrifying to raise my voice here. I don’t yet have the confidence of my 5th grade self. But each day, with a new word, I speak a little louder. Sometimes at the breakfast table. (where sometimes my husband claps for me). At the grocery store (where I sometimes clap for myself). And slowly it comes.

We will be challenged every day. From language to health. Relationships. Struggles. And we will be asked to do the work. Some days will always be easier than others. But on the hardest ones, I must think back to my blossoming self. How excited I was to dare — dare to find my voice — My self! How excited I was to say, Listen up world, my voice is getting louder and louder.

Today, surround yourself with those who will applaud your attempt! Dare to join in the clapping. Join the conversation of this wonderful life!


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Big deal.

Yesterday morning I was romanticizing the beauty of hotel bedrooms. I’m not sure why. The person who does the filing in my brain must have pulled out that particular file and the images were so inviting, I sprung into action. I pulled the sheets off of our bed, the pillowcases and duvet cover, putting them in the laundry. Found a new set of sheets, and stretched them over the bed. They were ironed, (yes, I do iron our bedding) but still needed the smoothing of my hand, if only for the welcoming. I dressed the pillows. Filled the duvet cover. Found a new throw blanket to style. Even though the cover was ironed, it’s time in the cupboard was apparently not that easy, so I got the iron and steamed it back to its origin. So clean and fresh, I lit the candles on the bedside tables in celebration. The sun shone directly on this hoteled bed and for one brief moment, I thought, yes! But the sun said, wait… look at the windows. Oh, that sun can see everything. This beautiful bed deserved clean windows, so I got the Windex and paper towel and squeegee and went to work. Round and round each pane. The inside and outside. Of course, in doing this, yesterday’s vacuumed floor was not spackled with dust, so I got out the new vacuum and followed it’s headlight until the floor was once again clean.


Today, it will show a bit of rumpling, and I will fight the good fight with smoothing hands. But tomorrow it will show a little more, and a little more the day after that. And that’s ok. Because yesterday, for a brief moment it was perfect, when my husband eased himself under the covers and said, “It feels like a brand new bed!”


We think life is made up of a few grandiose events, but really, it’s a million little moments. The everyday things. The clean sheets. The croissants for breakfast. The hopes that shine through the windows with each morning sun. These are the moments! I want to respect them, work for them, enjoy them, live them!


Here comes another! Don’t miss it! Each little thing is a pretty big deal!


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If I had a hammer…

We visited the home of Thomas Jefferson. I took a picture of his work space on my ipad. I have the same hammer. I use the same hammer. In some ways we have come so far — I don’t know that he ever could have dreamed about an ipad, but he loved learning, progress, so I think he would approve. In other ways, the world hasn’t changed that much. The basics. The hammers. The tools of our daily living. I think the goal is to use what still works, but then keep learning. We have so many more tools at our disposal now. But are we doing better? I want to do better. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I always go back to one of my favorite people, Maya Angelou — she said, “When you know better, you do better.” We can do better. We can pick up the hammers that still work, and build with them, build on them. Use the tools we have today and go further.


It’s easy to type the words. Harder to live them. I know. Yesterday I got clogged in a mess for a couple of hours. I don’t want to give it more time, so I’ll just say, toner. Stupid toner. Stupid printer. My first thought was, “you’re wasting my time!” I said it over and over in my brain. Then it occured to me, that it was actually just me. I was wasting my time. I can do better. Today, I will do better. My hammer still works. My hands still work. My brain still works (well…as it does), and I will build a better today.


Thank you, Thomas. Thank you, Maya! Thank you, new day! Let’s begin!

Watch for this image. It’s going to be the cover of my newest book – a collection of these blogs!


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Bourbon balls.

I understand it’s probably my own vanity that keeps me from bringing a lot of things back from our travels. My suitcases are always at the weight limit, despite my honest efforts. (In my defense, my mother taught me, when packing, you need to bring enough for weather changes, mood changes, or in case you want to open a store.) I usually return to France with a few postcards and a lot of ideas!


As we passed through Kentucky, I picked up the postcard of the blue horse. It was next to the Kentucky Bourbon balls. I knew I would be making them when we got home. (My less vain husband had room in his suitcase for the Kentucky bourbon.)


In the spirit of slow French baking, the Bourbon balls take two days. As with most of my kitchen experiences here, it was quite the adventure. We searched Carefourre (our version of Target) for the pecans. We combed over the whole store. Not in the nut aisle. Not in the snack aisle. Not in the “exotic” aisle. Finally, next to the avocados. Of course! Victory number one. The recipe on the postcard said one box of powdered sugar — a couple of things, in France the powdered sugar is really the regular sugar and the sucre glacé is the American version of powdered sugar — and it doesn’t come in a box. So I guessed. I mixed in the rest of the ingredients until it felt right, and made my balls. The next day I made the chocolate. We don’t identify semi-sweet or bitter sweet – we have “noir” – so I guessed. Stirred until it felt right. Use a double boiler the recipe card said. So I made one. Bowl and pan. It worked.


I put them in the refrigerator. Changed my clothes. And we went to see my mother-in-law. Two bourbon balls in tow. Before I presented them she asked what was in the container. I opened it and within seconds she devoured the two balls. Victory number two.
When we came home, we sat down with tea and tried them for ourselves. Dee and lish! Delicious! Time spent together. Travels remembered. Victory number three.


The adventures continue if you choose to take them. The victories continue if you choose to see them. Life is sticky and messy and oh, so very delicious!