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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The gift of summer ending.

It’s easy, I suppose in the heart of the summer to let a day just slip away. I try not to, but it can happen. “Oh, it’s hot – I don’t want to set the table…I’m tired from mowing the lawn…we could just have a pizza…” And the day disappears.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of summer is that it ends. I can feel it. It’s not here yet, but it is around the bend, telling me, reminding me, urging me, to enjoy the moment.

Yesterday was some of summer’s finest work. Yellow sun, bouncing off tanned shoulders. Not too hot, just warm enough to welcome the pool. Hair still wet, I gave the white cloth a whip into the tiny breeze, flinging it over the outdoor table. I placed the pool-blue plates with waves, atop the large white chargers. A wine glass next to each. Summer in the south of France calls for a rosé. White napkins. I cut the peppers, green and red, the eggplant – aubergine — and cooked them on the outdoor plancha. Next came the fish — rougets – in my opinion one of the Mediterranean’s finest. We toasted the day as the gift it was given. Not looking ahead. Not looking behind. We always eat slower outside. Gathered in a sea of green, we are still… and ever.

I was having such a good time, I forgot to take a photo. And perhaps that is the best compliment I can give the day. To be in it. Truly in it. Maybe that’s the only way to say thank you – thank you for this beautiful day!

If it never ended, I wonder if I would give it the reverence it deserves? I’m not sure. But I know this — yesterday was a beautiful day, and I, we, enjoyed it. The morning sun is telling me, reminding me, urging me, to do the same today.

Our someday is now.


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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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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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Seeing it through.

“There was the man who got on his horse one afternoon and told his wife he was going to bring in the cows. She watched him ride off across the flats. He came to their two mild cows, grazing half a mile from the house, and he rode around them and kept on going. She watched him to the top of the rise, a mile away, and she waited and waited. He never came back. “I don’t know what got into him,” his wife said. “He didn’t even say goodbye.” Hal Borland from “High, Wide and Lonesome”


When I start a new painting, I like to keep quiet. Those who know me don’t ask, “What is it going to be?” I suppose there are a few reasons for this. First, I’m often not sure. What I begin might turn into something else completely. That, to me, is never failure of losing the first, that is the magic of gaining what is to be. The magic that comes from seeing it through. Allowing it to become. Never abandoning the canvas, but working with it. Not forcing it to be something it isn’t, but allowing it to be what it wants to be.


Maybe she learned it from her father — the farmer who always came back from the field. But most certainly, I learned it from her, my mother. From her I learned the magic of seeing it through. The magic of no more abandonings. So today, if you’re wondering what the next painting will be… what tomorrow will bring…if you really need to know, know this, it’s going to be magic!


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Winter boats.

It’s easy to love the summer of someone. The well lit, sun filled long days of them. But when the tanned shoulders are covered, with no aid of chilled rose wine in clinking glasses, you have to really love them. Just them.

But, oh, the winter boats. They are so beautiful. Resting on the shore. This is when you know. You know you can trust the love of the winter boats. The ones who will sit with you when the waters have cooled. Will be there, when no fireworks light July’s sky. Will be there, just be there, for you.

What a joy it is to not look back, nor forward, just beside. True love rocks gently.


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Patience

I must admit that I have struggled with this one — patience. But the world is determined to teach me. Waiting for packages. Waiting for hearts to grow. Minds to change. Learning. Every day with the learning!

And so, as if part of the lesson, we are celebrating Thanksgiving, not on a Thursday, but a Saturday night. My mind wants to race ahead, keep abreast with my American colleagues and put up the Christmas decorations. But patience tells me, and oh, I try to listen, enjoy the Thanksgiving. Don’t let it slip away because you are too eager for the next. The next will come, without your knowledge or permission, so enjoy the now. Oh, patience…give me some of that wisdom.

Just as easily as we can get stuck in the past, we can also get stuck in tomorrow. Today, I just want to be thankful for today. Thankful that I have something special — a Saturday Thanksgiving! Filled with all the traditional and nontraditional joy that a French Saturday Thanksgiving can bring.

Hello, patience. Let’s put those turkey parts in the oven, and let the festivities begin. And before I forget — THANK YOU!


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Perfection knows no time constraints.

When I focus only on my own tiny heart, I can feel badly that she doesn’t remember me, my mother-in-law. It’s only natural, I suppose. And when I say the words out loud, it is only natural. There is no malice. Only nature. She has done her job. For 96 years. She has cared and nurtured and lived. When I arrived she welcomed me. Learned about me. Clapped for my paintings. Sometimes more than once. Knew me. And that was perfect. In its time. It is now my turn to welcome her, again, for the first time. Welcome this period in her life, not with anger (How could you forget?), not with sadness (Why don’t you remember?) but with grace (I’m happy to see you.)


I have climbed the Sainte Victoire. The mountain doesn’t remember me, but oh, how I remember each step. Each stumble coming down. It is my job, my joy to remember. I remember kissing at the Eiffel Tower. Wandering the relics of Rome. The feel of the Mediterranean washing over me. I remember my grandfather’s overalls. My grandmother’s hands. It is my job to remember. To share the stories. Pass them on. Give them life. Until one, day, in one language or another, someone might carry them for me. Carry each kiss and stumble. Until they can only pass them on again.


And it will all be as it should. Filled with grace, this perfectly imperfect gift of time.


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There, there.

It’s easy to get too far ahead of myself. In painting. In life. I want the answer. The finished piece. The resolution. The “Veruca Salt” voice sings in my head, “I want it now!” But it doesn’t work that way. Painting. Life. Stroke by stroke. Patience.


I’ve started a commissioned painting for a lake. Blue. Well, that’s simple. Right? Done? No. Each color must be given it’s equal time. The shadows of the almost blue black, to the glistening whites of the sun’s reflection. Each needs attention. Time. To find the movement in the stillness of each color. This is the goal.


Vincent van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” I understand this – on canvas. I take the time in my sketchbook. Work at it. Color by color. Stroke by stroke. Oh, yes. Bit by bit, it all comes together. Slowly in the stillness of my sketchbook. I want this for life.


It was Mrs. Bergstrum who first taught us this. “Sound it out,” she said. But there was the whole alphabet right in front of us! All the possibilities. We wanted it all. Every word. Every book. Every library. “Slowly,” she said. And we made the sounds. Letter by letter. Into words. Each word a victory. Great things were coming together.


There is so much to want. So much I want for those I love. I want healing and grace and hope and joy. I want it all! I know this furious speed. I know the furious speed at which you are trying to get over and around. Wanting every color, every word, now! I have traveled that wind and hung on for dear life. But the dear life I found came only in the quiet slowing down. The letting go. No longer rushing to get past, but easing my way through. Color by color. Letter by letter. Sounding it out. And the peace. Smiled. Knowing it had always been there, as I whirled. Peace, sitting quietly next to joy, and hope, and OK now. There, there. Still. Great things are coming together.


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First, the field…


I have been commissioned to paint a field of poppies. Looks pretty green for poppies, you’re thinking. Yes, for now. But first the field… my grandfather taught me that, I suppose, on his farm. Each year he would take the browns and turn them into greens, and eventually into gold. “You can’t glamorize the dirt,” he said. It was work. So much work. Rocks needed to be picked. Dirt turned. Seeds planted. Watered. Care. So much care.


And so I paint the same way. I cut the wood. Stretch the canvas. Gesso. Prepare. Underpaint. Start with the field. My hands dirty. My heart full of promise that the flowers will come. Patient. Care. So much care.


Life is very messy. Terribly messy. My Uncle Nick passed away yesterday. I can’t glamorize that. I know he suffered. But I believe in the golden fields. Those of my grandfather. I believe they are there now. Together. Held with care. So much care.


Today, maybe, the poppies…