Jodi Hills

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


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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?


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To build.

I like to watch decorating videos on youtube. I viewed a lovely tour of a woman’s home. The next day, in my feed, another video popped up. I recognized her home in the thumbnail. This, however, was not more about her home, but it was another woman watching the same video I watched and giving her opinion. I didn’t need to see much of it before quitting. By “critiquing”, she meant she was just going to say everything she didn’t like about this woman’s home. Why would I want to see that? But even worse, the next day, (and I’m not kidding), in my feed there was a video of a woman critiquing the woman as she critiqued the very first video.

I have always been one who believed in the builders, the makers — of anything. I like the process. The courage in the attempt. The guts to then show how and what you made. (I just had a very vivid flashback to junior and senior high math! I get it now. It IS about the work.) Anyone can get to the answer. Anyone can buy the completed product. Critique the completed product.

And perhaps I, we, are just using the wrong word here – critique. Because of course, there is always room for “a detailed analysis and assessment of something” (as the dictionary defines critique.) A qualified evaluation that will help us learn and grow. But this is not what these videos were. “I don’t like it” is not really all that helpful.

And it occurs to me, I might be doing the same thing here… ugh… so gathering in my own advice, I will continue to celebrate the makers, those who attempt! Bravo to those who try. I can see it as I type it — “bravo” and “brave” are really just one letter apart – one tiny line. So bravo to the brave who dare cross it! Today, even if it’s just the day itself, let’s make something great!


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From a distance.

From a distance.

When painting, from time to time, you need to take a step back. And just look. It always looks different. Or more clear. Same eyes. Different view. So close to the easel, you can miss it. Only in stepping back, taking in the full picture, can you see what’s really happening on the canvas.  Then you can get close again. Change what’s needed. Sometimes it’s just a stroke or two. Other times you really have to paint over what you had — “give up your darlings” as they say — ideas and images that we make so precious, so darling, that we can’t even see the truth of them. It’s easy to think everything we do is right… the only way… but trust me, I have been proven wrong, stroke by stroke. It’s never easy, but it has always been for the better.

Since moving to France, I have begun to see my home town in a whole new light. I guess I had to step back. From here, each blue seems a little bluer, from lake to sky. Nothing was perfect, far from darling. But things needed to be released just the same. I suppose my “darlings” were thinking that everyone could have been better, should have been better. But I was so close to my own canvas that I couldn’t see them. Maybe they, too, were having their own struggles. Everyone does. Maybe they were doing the best they could do. Maybe we all were. The buoys in the lake, after all, weren’t there just for me. Maybe we were all looking to be saved.

I am reminded of a song sung by Bette Midler:

From a distance
The world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white

From a distance
The ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need

And there are no guns,
No bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band

Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

From a distance
You look like my friend
Even though we are at war

From a distance
I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man

It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

I take a step back today, and I see you. Beautiful.


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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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Sometimes she would whisper to her heart. It was usually just this, “yes.”

He began the song in a whisper, Nat King Cole. From the radio he graced our breakfast table. His opening of “Perfidia” was as gentle as the steam that rose from our coffee. “Mujer…” he sang, so softly, but never more clear to our hearts. We left our croissants on the table, and just listened.

In third grade, Mrs. Erickson carried a long stick. She didn’t slam it. She didn’t swing it. She held it. Third graders are not known for sitting still. There is so much to make the eye wander. The birds outside the window. The fidgeting boy in the desk next to you. The note being passed around. The answers on the smart girl’s paper. Mrs. Erickson told us once at the beginning of the school year, “Keep your eyes on your own paper.” She never said the words aloud again. But we knew. If the end of the stick tapped lightly on the front of your desk, or simply pointed in your direction…you looked at your own work.

I can see it now so clearly. She was brilliant. She didn’t need to wave her stick around, because it wasn’t about punishing, it was about teaching. I think she knew that “cheaters” weren’t bad, but simply not confident, not confident in their own work. And her tap, was a reminder, “Look, look right here, you can do this.”

I don’t know if everyone got that. It’s a lesson I’m still learning. Every day. It’s not that I have the want or the opportunity to “steal the answers” from someone else. But I do need a gentle tap, a whisper, to tell me that I can do this. I can do this in my way. In my time. The answers are right in front of me.

This morning Nat King Cole gave us a gentle tap.

I summon the daily courage needed, and I begin. “Yes,” I whisper. “Yes.”