Jodi Hills

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


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To find out who I am.

It’s not like I’m afraid of forgetting my own initials. But when I saw the little letters, I knew I had to have them. J. H. O. Jodi Hills Orsolini. My fingers rummaged through the sea of white. I was so excited as I pulled out the letters. One by one. I suppose, for a brief moment, in a store so far from home, it was affirmation, that I did exist.

I’m curious by nature. I want to learn new things. See new things. I love to read. To travel. Meet new people. And I’ve come to understand, with each experience, perhaps I learn more about myself than anything at all. And sometimes it’s hard. We’re put in constant situations where we think we’re learning more about other people. How to handle their challenges or victories. And it’s easy to get lost in that. But sometimes I think we have to also look at the situation and ask, “What does this say about me?” My reactions. Am I being patient? Am I being kind? Am I actually learning?

We are offered daily situations to grow. Today is Sunday. In France, that means almost everything is closed. I’d like to get varnish for the frame I am making. It won’t happen today. Of course my initial reaction is, “Stupid France…” Time to learn again. I dig into the bin of my heart and pull out the letters. J – be patient Jodi. H – be happy for this quiet moment. O – the stores may be closed, but your heart can be open.

I breathe. I smile. Give thanks to this beautiful country, and for the chance, once again, to find out who I am.


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Welcome to the garden.

Our fruit trees had a bad summer. Wait, that could be a mistake…I don’t know if their summer was good or not… maybe they had a great summer, taking this time off. What I should say is that they didn’t produce any of their usual fruit.  

This winter, there was a sudden warm up, then cold again, and they got very confused. It threw off their timing. And they took the summer off. To regroup.  They are still lovely. They flowered. Greened. Stood tall in the summer sun. Still valuable. Still part of our garden community.  I would, will, never stop loving them. 

Trini Lopez is the name of our lemon tree by the front door. He has yet to produce a lemon, but again, I love him. He greets me every morning by the kitchen window, with a green so full, leaves so hopeful, that I think, I, too, want to grow.  

This patience that I have with our garden, I fear, maybe I’m not that patient with humans. I am quick (I hate to admit) to think people are lazy. But maybe I, we, don’t always know what the person is going through. Maybe they aren’t being lazy at all. Maybe they are recovering from their own difficult winters. Maybe they are slowly, as best they can, growing into themselves. Finding their way to the sun. Maybe they are offering, not the usual gifts, but other ones. Maybe this year’s fruit is a delicate shade. Maybe this year’s fruit is a place to lean on, in the comfort of silence. 

You know that friend, (I hope we all have one), with whom you can sit, without words or entertainment. Just sit in the comfort and safety of their company. I want to be that friend. I want to be as patient with love, with growth, as the trees in our garden. I want to give you (and myself) a chance to grow, or better yet, to just be. To calmly, daily, without demand, or judgement, greet those who dare the morning, and say, “Welcome to the garden.”


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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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Daring greatly.

It seemed easy to make friends in school. They sat you next to about 30 options. Gave you subjects to talk about. Offered common enemies like rules and detention. Supplied the games and gyms. Put you in pools and on buses, all together.

And that was enough for most. But it seemed like there should be more. “Wasn’t there more to it? Wasn’t it all supposed to mean something?” I asked my best friend in my yellow bedroom on Van Dyke Road. Cindy thought about it. I mean, she didn’t laugh, but really thought about it, and I suppose that’s why we were friends. We understood each other. Even in our preteens, we sought more than they could possibly offer at Washington Elementary, or even Central Junior High.

We both agreed that there had to be more. But how did you get it? That was the bigger question. I searched for years. I can’t tell you the exact moment. They came in whispers. Small bits. I wrote words for my mother. And we connected deeply. A poem for my grandfather’s funeral. And I was a part of a family. I began to expose my heart. I suppose I stopped looking for what could be offered to me, and began to offer what I had. And it was bigger! Better! It meant something! It meant all and more than I had dreamed of in shades of yellow. This is how I would connect. How I still connect.

He said I could pick out anything from his wood pile. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but for me it was priceless. A way for us to connect. And I had a long way to travel to catch up to this life-long friend of my husband. He helped me load the back of our car.

I cut the first strips of wood to stretch the canvas. No plans yet of what to paint, that would come. It always does if I just give it a path. I gessoed the canvas. And began in blue. The sea and sky and sand opened before me. The boats and nets and the fishermen — all daring greatly.

I searched my newly attained wood pile for the longest, straightest pieces. Sanded each length. And sanded again. And again. I cut them to length. Nailed them with the rusted hammer — once belonging to my husband’s father. Squared. Stained. Sanded again. Cut the strips for the backing. Placed the painting inside. It should also be mentioned that Michel, the man who let me pick freely from his pile of wood, was, for the majority of his life, a fisherman. A fisherman, I pause and smile. The blank canvas knew, perhaps even before I did. And this is how we connect. Connect our hearts. Our stories. By doing the work.

There is more. There is always more. But it won’t be given. We will have to search and throw our nets out to sea, continuously doing the work, ever daring greatly.


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Framed.

I suppose I thought I would remember every school day. I don’t. Some are merely flashes of bumper tennis shoes on terrazzo floors. Flying through the hallways, slipping through my heart and mind. I grab on to them. Frame them with specific memories – like standing in the window of Iverson’s shoes with my mother. Praying the new blue and white “bumpers” would be fast. And they were. It all was. So fast.

I don’t get to frame all of my artworks. And it is debatable whether they all need to be framed. I have researched, but there isn’t a great deal of information on why some paintings are framed and others not. There is the practical reason of course, to protect the piece. Also, the ease of portability. Also it separates the piece from the surrounding world, gives it importance, singularity. Separates the inside from the outside. And provides visual control.

I framed my painting of Washington Elementary, probably for all of these reasons. Mostly I suppose to contain the time — this time when everything seemed possible. Any fear could be outrun in white and blue canvas tennis shoes. I need those memories. Those feelings. Every day. So I gather them in. Framed on the wall. Framed in my heart. Separating myself from the fears of the day, the challenges of the world. Slowing it all down. I am safe. Perhaps even important. And in the framework of this very day, I am possible.


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Gessoed.

It makes a grand difference. You might not even know you’re looking at it, but it’s there – the gesso. Before painting, it’s a good idea to prime the surface with gesso – the unsung hero of the painting. It creates a base, a surface — something for the paint to cling to.  It’s just a little rough to the touch, but oh, so necessary when building a structure that supports the image.

As the painter, you can feel it. How it responds to your paint. It’s an extra step, but always worth it.  

I suppose I’ve always been attracted to those who have been “gessoed.”  Those who have survived the days, the days a little rough to the heart’s touch. Their beauty seems to shine through, just a little brighter. And I trust this beauty, as something to cling to.

The real trick is to try and see it in yourself. See the hard days as your own gessoing. I’m trying to get better at it. I haven’t perfected it yet, but I am seeing them for what they are, perhaps just a few moments sooner, and I will take those small victories. Seeing them as the “gesso” for the next painting. Something to build on. The strength that will support me. 

I want you to know that I see you, my gessoed friends. And sometimes, I lean on you, perhaps even without your knowledge, but I do. I hope you do the same, with me, and all the rough (and I use this in the most complimentary way) beauties around you. If we can do this, we can do anything. Wouldn’t that be beautiful?


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The makers.

Yesterday we went on a mini-adventure. Just an hour from our home. A small village. We wanted to see the local pottery shop. It has been in operation since 1665. Something that has survived that long deserves our attention.  

Along the way, in the countryside, I saw something new. (New to me, clearly very old.) They looked like brick silos. They were to house the pigeons, my husband explained. We discussed the pigeons for many miles. Both in amazement that this was the way they used to get messages from place to place. Pigeons. Messages strapped to them. We complain when the internet is slow. 

Returning home, I sat by the window, looking up pigeons on my computer. I could see our “locals” sitting by the side of the tree. Most of “our” pigeons barely fly anymore. How lazy, I thought, then quickly caught myself as I checked my mail (my email that can arrive almost instantly from another country.)

It’s easy to forget about the makers. Those who crafted things by hand. Came up with solutions to problems. 

We ate our evening meal on the plates we purchased from the potter – the most beautiful plates I have ever seen. Each touched by human hands. Potters. Still making dishes. Not one exactly the same. Beautifully imperfect. 

We have the luxury of so many things – and I use them every day. I love technology. I am so grateful for the ease of everyday living. But I give thanks for those who got us here. And for those who continue to remind us of the journey. The makers. The hands that continue to create. Touch. The parents and grandparents that still carry the stories, messages strapped on hearts and wings. Journeys that deserve our attention — not one exactly the same. Beautifully imperfect.


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Thumbs up.

There is a certain group of people that will forever remain in the Mr. or Mrs. categories for me — my teachers.

As an adult, even becoming friends with some of them, it still seems almost impossible not to refer to them in a proper way. And how lucky, I suppose, that this remains. This simple sign of respect. 

My first gym teacher at Washington Elementary was Mr. Christopherson. His job, I see now, was almost impossible. Rounding up these groups of children, on the brink of Lord of the Flies…so filled with the agony and frustration of grammar and times tables…bursting at the seams of our gym uniforms to release the energy of learning. But somehow he did. Separating us into teams. Arming us with red balls. Allowing us to throw and run and scream and laugh, and sometimes cry. But then, and here comes the amazing part, he had the strength, the respect, to wind us down. Make us pick up the balls. Place them neatly in the ball rack. Stand in line. March to the lavatory. Shower. Change back into our “civilian” clothes. And walk quietly, calmly, (a little lighter of educational worry) single file, back to our classroom . This is something. This is why he will, and should, forever remain “Mr. Christopherson.”

When I became an adult, and would visit my mother for the weekend, I would go out running in the morningtime. And I would see him out there. Even on the coldest of winter days. Well into his later years. Still running. Still fit. Still in charge. Still inspiring. I would see him from a distance. I knew how he ran. I could feel myself pick up my pace a little. Puff up my chest. Run a little taller, straighter, stronger. When we crossed paths, he would smile and give me the thumbs up. Approval. It mattered. It still does. 

Today we say goodbye to this forever Mister. I sit up in my chair. A little straighter. A little stronger. And type the words of thanks.


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A part of the story.

First I sanded it. Then cut it. Then sanded it again. It smelled brand new, this wood — this wood that he gave to me from the scrap pile. I squared it. Nailed it. Then stretched the material over this frame. I gessoed the canvas, and gessoed it again. And then I began to paint. I was invested long before the image came out. Long before the yellows and greens. Before the dimension rose from the surface. It was a part of me. A part of him. A part of the field of overgrown weeds, on the side of the mountain. A part of the story.

I was reading the reviews to the last book I read — a book that I adored. I wanted to be a part of the group – a part of the people talking about the experience. Most of the reviews were positive, but there was one that I just couldn’t believe. Now, I know that everyone doesn’t like the same thing, and that’s fine, but this negative review was so ridiculous in its reasoning. It said,(surrounded by a lot of other unflattering words) “it was just a bunch of stories.” What??? I still can’t believe it. Yes, it was, as you say, a bunch of stories. It was a grouping of beautiful stories. A gathering of lives. Because isn’t that all we are – a gathering of stories? Those we have lived through. Shared. The stories that trigger your memory. The stories that help you get through your own story. Gather you into mine. The stories that make a path. Guide you into the future. Comfort you in the darkness. Laugh with you in the light. These are our lives. All of these stories. And to me, that is beautiful!

These stories of my mother, my grandparents, my schoolmates and friends, these are the piles of scattered wood that, when treated with care, take on new form, new life. I know this painting of the lemons won’t last forever. But I’d like to think that one day, after it hangs in one home, then another, maybe it gets painted over, and hung again, or maybe restretched with a new canvas, maybe the wood frames a different painting, or braces a different structure, maybe eventually it burns in the fireplace, and comforts you as you share your story with the one you love.

Life…it’s never just a lemon. Share your story.


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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?