Jodi Hills

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


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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.”


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Never finish.

There was a certain percentage of students at Washington Elementary that ate the Elmer’s glue. I must admit I liked the smell, but I never did eat it. I, along with the remainder of the class did however, put it on our fingertips, let it dry, and then peeled it off. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how satisfying that was.  This, along with a box of colored construction paper and Crayola crayons, could keep us busy during any rain altered recess. 

I was watching it rain yesterday afternoon through my office window, busy working on my new website. I have a small selection of paints at my desk, and a couple of brushes. 

I needed a recess — a rain altered recess. It’s amazing how it still can thrill me. The colors. The possibility. I knew at 5 years old, how magic this world was. Not only could it take you anywhere, but it would stay with you, inside of you, so permanent, so sure. I suppose it’s possible that I could have learned this on my own, I don’t know, but I give thanks every day for Washington Elementary. I give thanks for the teachers that introduced this world. What a gift they offered — this ability to go anywhere, even when the world was closed down…this ability to save yourself from the storm.  

I’m still learning. Still loving. I pray I never finish.


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Swagger.

For a brief period he was the principal at Washington Elementary. Bob Jones. As solid a man as his name could convey. A bald head and a smile so big it seemed to lift his steps – giving life to the verb swagger. He was, as our first grade teacher taught us in spelling class when differentiating the words principle and principal, yes, he was indeed our “pal.”

We wanted him to like us. What a gift that is for a principal to have. It was my cousin Vicki who gave me my first opportunity to speak with him. I get goose bumps remembering. Vicki, several years my senior, asked me one weekend, “Do you think he remembers me?” Remembers you??? He’s a rock star, I thought. “Ask him,” she giggled in delight. One thing about Vicki, she was always giggling. A giggle that made things seem possible. And so I agreed to do it. I would ask him, during his Monday morning stroll through the school.

I barely slept Sunday night. I waited near the back doors that opened to the playground. His usual rounds took him there just a little after 8am. I wouldn’t hear him coming, I would just have to wait – one never hears swagger. And there he was. White belt. White shoes. (I hope it was spring.) I stepped in his tracks. So nervous and excited, I blurted it out with no context. “Do you remember Vicki?” He stopped. He stopped for me! He bent down on one knee. “What’s this now?” he asked. “Vicki. My cousin. Vicki Hvezda. She wants to know if you remember her.” He smiled, even bigger than normal. “Aaah, yes, one of the Hvezda girls.” I beamed and ran to my class, as if she would be waiting there for the answer. I carried that answer with me for the rest of the week. I couldn’t wait to tell her. He remembered her. He stopped for me.

I’m giggling, even today. He left soon after and rose through the ranks of the school system. But for a moment, he was ours – our Bob Jones – and he saw us.

I guess we all want to seen.

It may seem crazy, but it was this simple pear – this tiny, still life – that reminded me of this story. But how beautiful, I think. How fitting. It all matters. The tiniest of moments that lift our faces, and fill our hearts’ pockets. I carry it all with me. Life’s swagger.


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Bus Driver.

It was a big responsibility to get us safely to and from school. They seemed so old, these young men that were usually our bus drivers — law enforcement students at the Tech School in town. Maybe it was the uniform they kept on after class. So authoritative in their beige and brown. They felt like “sirs” when really they were probably 19? Maybe 20? 

I think of them today because of the changing weather. This promise of summer vacation in the air. This need to open windows and doors. To be a part of this air, so fresh, so new! Almost wild (in the best kind of way.) I, we, started feeling it at six years old. Let loose from the doors of Washington Elementary, onto the big buses. We opened windows and let our hair blow against the streak of yellow that lumbered down the street. Contained only by the glance in the giant mirror of the one driving the bus. Holding the back of the seat in front of you for leverage. One leg in the aisle – braced to race out the door when reaching your stop. Then the “almost sir” would move the big silver handle. Door open. Freedom!

What an amazing gift to be given. And we’ve always had it. Today, and every day, I give thanks for each window, each door, and those who flung them open!


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Swooping in.

I don’t know what they looked like, the radio announcers on KXRA, the early morning show. But once, maybe twice a year, I imagined them in full super hero gear, red capes, powerful arms reaching out to save the day. 

We didn’t get that many “snow days” – days when the weather closed the schools – but oh, when they came, it was glorious. The seed would be planted before bedtime. The bad weather might be on its way. It was like going to bed on Christmas Eve, so filled with hope you could barely sleep. When the alarm went off, we raced to windows, praying to see only snow. And if there was a pane filled with white, we raced to the radio. Did they say it? Did they announce it? Usually it would start with a delay… two hours late… no, that wouldn’t do. “Close it, close it, close it,” we pleaded with the radio airwaves. A delay meant still getting dressed. No school meant pajama day. Pajama day – PLEASE! The announcer started reading the school districts by number. Please 206, please 206. And when you heard it – oh my! And it wasn’t like we were tired – no just the opposite. How exhilarating! The freedom! The possibilities in that day. All because those super heroes on KXRA said our school district number out loud on the radio – but what I heard, what we heard was “You’re free!!!”

There is no snow in Aix en Provence. All of our trees are in bloom. On our way home from dinner last night in Marseille, it was late, and we started talking about sleep, bed… and for some reason we brought up pajama day – what if tomorrow was pajama day? It felt good to dream about it. Wait for it. We smiled all through breakfast, knowing we had the power to decide. We had the power to be our own super hereos. To swoop in, no matter the weather, and claim the day. All things possible. Everything in bloom. 

Now, I am no Patty Wicken (our local radio star), but I tell you in my best radio voice, save yourself today, do something you love, be someone you love, because in the blossom of today – You are free!!!


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For a brief moment, I held the sun in my hands.

The bus dropped us off at Washington Elementary about 15 minutes before class started. I met with three of my friends. We all had glow-in-the-dark super balls, purchased from Ben Franklin. These balls, just about one inch in size, lived up to their name! The four of us snuck into the gymnasium, it was just across from our classroom. With no windows, and the doors shut, it was completely black. Nothing could be seen but the four super balls bouncing from wall to wall. It was a glorious light show of bouncing back! We chased the light for 15 shiny minutes. Our secret game. No rules. No losers. Only laughter. Only the belief that what we threw out there would come back to us.

I suppose I am not different from most people in the night time. That darkness can help my brain create the worst of scenarios. I really have to work at letting it all go. Releasing it all. Believing that the sun will return in all its magical light, giving us a brand new day, a brand new chance.

The sun is shining through the window now. And maybe this is a day for you to bounce back, or simply bounce – either way, I hope you live it with the eyes of belief, experience it with those dear friends around you, running in the laughter of all this light!


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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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Dewey Decimal.

I suppose some might say that it has always been my nature to “worry.” Wednesday evenings before library day at Washington Elementary, I would wonder, will they give us enough time, will I find the book I want? And I hate to call it “worry,” really, it’s just that it all meant so much to me. The books, the library, the stories, I valued them. I loved them. So I took the time, mapped out the library on paper and in my head. Learned the sections of my favorite series. Studied the Dewey Decimal System. Made friends with the card catalog, not to mention the librarian. So yes, I thought about it a lot – but it wasn’t the agony of worry, it was love. And I will never regret giving them my time. My thoughts. My concern. Loving them with all of my heart.


Today, there are always concerns, and bigger ones at that. Family. Health. Life. World. But I would like to think I’m not just “worried.” Worry itself doesn’t seem to inspire much action. Concern, feelings, love, now that helps me. Makes me aware of the problems, the issues, and gives me the incentive to do something. Worrying, simply worrying about tomorrow, not only doesn’t help my tomorrow, but it loses my today. It’s not always easy. And I am certainly not perfect. Oh, that “worry” can sneak its way in, but when it does, I look for my tools. I Dewey Decimal it to the ground, and reach once again for the love. It, love, has always been the answer. Still, and again.


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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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Set up to fly.

She was really too petite to be a Barbara. We called her Barbie. Barbie Smith. She was the setter on our volleyball team in high school. She was excellent in her role. She knew each player. How high they could jump. When they were ready. Quick set. High set. And when she did it perfectly, the hitter got all the credit with the perfect spike. But we knew…without her, there was none of it.


I’m not sure we value these people enough. The setters. Those that set us up for success. As school is about to begin around the globe, maybe it’s a good time to recognize those that have lifted us, lift us now.


My mom worked in the Superintendent’s office at our high school. She took all the calls. She was the first to handle the ball. She welcomed the teachers, new and old. She directed the parents, upset or confused. Kept the administrators smiling. Not only made the school run, but made it look good. The perfect setter.


And the teachers. To say I can’t thank them all would be wrong. I do thank them all. They gave my broken world structure. Gave it a play. Popped the ball in my direction and told me to jump. Jump as high as I could. And I did! I still do it. Every day. Because they set me up. Sure, they offered up the words and the skills and the rules…but they also gave me a reason to stretch my every muscle, a curiousity, a belief that I was part of the game. And I am. They “Barbied” me into a wider world. What a gift!


Today, let’s look behind the curtain. Give thanks to all those who lift us without reward or recognition. The every day heroes — I don’t say everyday because they are not ordinary — they show up every day, they lift us. They give us not just a chance at winning – but a chance to fly!