Jodi Hills

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


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500 days!

I have always been inspired, since the first time I saw it — getting bigger and bigger through my airplane window. New York. I know I am not alone. It’s in the song, after all… “If you can make it there…” The melody got louder in each beat of my heart. 

Some might say it’s cliche… and I would have been the first to agree, had it stopped at some point. But it never has. With each trip, over and over, if anything, it grows — this desire to be better. To wake up and want more — I’m not talking about things — but I guess, to simplify it, life — to want more out of life itself — to want more from myself. With each step on a New York street, I feel like I want to dress better. Walk taller. Be sure of my steps. I want to paint better – master my pieces. Create more. Write more. I become the melody. Humming along with the taxis. 

The trick is always, I suppose, not to be inspired (this is rather easy), but to keep that inspiration alive. That takes effort. Work. Faith. At first, when returning from a trip, I could keep it up. Dressing a little nicer when I went to Staples to ship out orders. Savoring Caribou’s coffee a little longer. Feeling the buzz in my hands. Oh, but how easily it could slip away, how easily I could slip into old habits of ordinary. Yellow fading.

It has been 500 days. 500 days! of this blog!! Not one day missed. It has become my New York. I have become my New York. At first, I labored (and some days still). Worried about the idea – would it come? But then I began to believe in it, trust in it, allow it to come. And it does. It has for 500 days! 

It is so easy to let the magic slip from our heart and hands. To wait for something else, someplace else, someone else, to inspire. But I don’t want to miss out. I don’t want to let one day go by without feeling this way, without feeling this buzz of life. It may not always be this blog, but I have made a promise to myself that it will be something…each day will be something…I will be my own vibrant yellow! Moving. Maneuvering. Honking even!  Unprepared to let even a day slip away. Hanging on! I am living this life!

It still may be a blur! Time moves pretty quickly! But oh, what a blur it will be!!!


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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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Just breathe.

We knew a little about team work, from playing in school sports, or even gym class, but this was different. We weren’t just working together, “It was more than that,” he said. We had to breathe together. Breathe together? All of us? Was that even possible?

We were just a group of teenagers in a band. We had never heard of breathing exercises. Certainly never heard of yoga. We were preparing for the state high school band tournaments in Minneapolis. Maybe some of us had grand aspirations, but I don’t really think so. We got to get out of school early. Ride a bus to Minneapolis. That was about it. But for some reason he believed in us. Wanted us to believe in ourselves. Reach for something more. And he stood in front of us, with that baton, that wiggle, all that hair, smiling, and we started to believe too.

It was the first time I even brought my clarinet home. Practiced. This was new. For most of us. We were all learning our individual parts, but it wasn’t enough he said. He said we had to be “one.” And the only way we could be “one” was to breathe together. For the first time I listened to my own breath. I was aware of my actions. Aware of the girls on either side of me. The boys behind me. We had different interests. Different skill levels. But we could do this. We could breathe together. We could do this for ourselves. We could be better. And we were. Every day.

That bus ride to the competition was fantastic. We sang. Arm in arm. Shoulder to shoulder. Our instruments snuggly packed in the compartments below. We played better than we ever had. Cohesive. One unit. It sounded beautiful — to us. We didn’t make it past the first round. I don’t suppose that was the ending you imagined. You were expecting some sort of victory. OH, but you see we were victorious. We thought so! And he thought so, our conductor, Mr. Christianson.

On the bus ride home we sang and laughed, still arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, because we had done what we thought impossible. We became one. And that was the victory after all. We were part of something. I can hear a big band song on the radio today, and feel it!. I breathe in, once again, the gift he gave us, the gift we gave ourselves. And I belong.


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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!