Jodi Hills

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


But the trail.

I don’t suppose I had yet thought of myself as a woman — 18 years old — my freshman year in college.  It was something I knew I would have to earn. (In typing this, I only just realized the nearness of the words earn and learn. Maybe a part of me knew this all along — the importance of learning.) So I signed up for my first course in Women’s Studies. 

As we began navigating through the required reading, it turned out that the history of women was really just “history.” We were there from the beginning. We weren’t just on the trail, we packed the wagon. 

One story got in deep. I think about it often — her often. They began, as most of the stories did, on the east coast. They were about to travel west. All the way west. In a covered wagon. She was already lonesome. Leaving behind her mother and father. Just a young married woman, she loaded the wooden wheels with the comforts of home. Her clothing. A little furniture. Keepsakes. Her mother’s dishes. The trail was brutal. Unforgiving. The animals suffered to drag their belongings. The wheels broke away. Mile by mile she let things go. The furniture. The keepsakes — (she cried at the irony of the name.) Dress by dress, dropped along the hidden trail. She couldn’t look as her husband coaxed the horse. The wheels clunked. The dishes remained in the dirt. 

We often measure our relationships by what is given. Perhaps we need to look closer at, not the wagon, but the trail. I am grateful for the professor who pointed this out, reminded me, but truth be told, I already had the best examples. I had my grandmother. My mother. I still do. They gave their time. Their hearts. They made each wheel-worn step with grace. Clearing a path.

I pray that’s what I’m doing with these stories of them. Of us. Learning. Earning. Making a path. Making it a little easier for someone else to travel. Hoping we can all, one day, find our way.


Dreams come true.

If you’re going to be turned away, it really should be by the best in the world.

Several years ago, we were walking past a vineyard, about 10 minutes from our home. Chateau Simone, scrolled beautifully on the gate. It was unclear which was the main entrance. We seemed to be on the path to the tasting room/store. We heard the familiar creek of the shutters above us. Straight out of casting, she looked down at us, or should I say “looked down on us,” (both would be true). She clasped her burning cigarette between the quintessential two fingered V, and said, “Privé, Privé!” (Private, private!) She flicked her ashes in a shoo motion. We seemed to be in the French equivalent of a Seinfeld episode — No wine for you! Not to be out-Frenched in his native country, Dominique offered up a few neatly placed words that were not in my vocabulary. We turned around and walked back home.

We’ve used the incident repeatedly through the years — smoking our imaginary cigarettes and dismissing the unwanted — it’s a gift that just keeps on giving. We just found out yesterday that Chateau Simone has been voted the best wine in the world. Best in the world! Our neighbor! We were not shooed by just anyone…we were shooed by the best in the world!

Having the story seems almost better than drinking the best wine in the world. Well, maybe not… we ARE going to go back to try again. Who doesn’t want the best?!

I’ve come to realize it’s all important, it’s all a gift- each step, each path, each rejection, each laugh. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, maybe it ends with the best wine… or maybe lemons…but I do know this, it’s all a part of the dream, and each day, I am coming true!

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I was still playing with dolls when my brother came home from school with a handful of ribbons. He was saying something about Track and Field, competition, winning – I could barely hear over the noise of those silken colors. “How can I get some?” I asked. “You don’t GET them, you have to WIN them!” “How do I win them?” “Not for girls,” he said. “If it’s not for girls, why do they reward you with ribbons?” He pushed me aside, and I knew I had already won.

I would have to wait for several years, but I was first in line to receive our 7th grade track uniforms. The coach pulled out a gray hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants. Our school colors were red and black. I started to ask if this was my size. She rolled her eyes. There were no options.

Armed with youth, I donned the gray and ran in the spring rain to the field. With no worry of soiling our “uniforms,” we collapsed in the grass to catch our breath.

Experts at nothing, we entered everything. I ran in relays. Jumped high and long. Put the shot. And threw the discus. I was covered in stains at our first meet. Teachers of English and Math, dressed in sweatsuits, wrote down our times and distances. I placed in many events that day and couldn’t wait to get my ribbons. The teachers told us to get on the bus. Wait! Where were our ribbons? Did we get them on the bus?

Ribbons, they explained, would not be given out until the last meet. I felt like I was being dared to continue, so I did. I suppose it was ironic that my greatest competition that spring was a girl named Autumn. Autumn had long flowing hair, straight out of a TV commercial. In this battle of seasons, I dragged myself to the final meet of the season.

There were five places for each event, or as I thought of them — Blue, Red, White, Yellow, Green. I was so surprised that I had come to actually enjoy the events. I had worked hard. Even before the ceremony I found myself smiling. Proud even. With no thoughts of my brother, or Autumn, my heart felt strong. I had won, even before I took home two blues, a yellow and a green.

I don’t know what happened to the ribbons. But my heart remains strong. Able. Willing! (Winning) I find myself smiling, in every color, knowing that I am enough!

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Something beautiful.

There was a row of large windows in Mrs. Bergstrom’s first grade class at Washington Elementary. It was in the spring. I was eagerly awaiting my birthday. She gave each of us a small paper cup. We got to place the dirt inside with tiny shovels. Then a small bean. We stood single file in line to give our beans a small drink at the fountain before placing them on the window ledge.

Our six or seven years on the planet so far had not supplied us with much patience. We snuck peeks all afternoon to look for sprouts. Of course nothing happened that afternoon. Nor the next. Nothing was growing. Certainly we had overwatered, and underwatered and overexposed and overpoked. Then, just as we had almost given up hope, or interest, one started to sprout. It was Gerald Reed’s. He had two little green leaves. What magic we thought. No one else had anything.

The day of my birthday, my little girlfriends gave me little girly gifts, all pink and delightful. I was rosey faced all day. The afternoon sun shone through the windows as I packed my bag for the bus. I could see there was a little dirt around my cup. I went to the window. And there it was – the most glorious green sprout! It was a birthday miracle, I thought. Then I followed the trail of dirt to Gerald’s cup. It was empty. My heart grew. It was a miracle indeed – I had such a friend!

We all have something to give. We all have room to grow. How beautiful!


Curtains wide!

I don’t know when I first heard the song. I didn’t have my own radio. Certainly not my own records. But my six year old brain knew the words. My six year old legs knew the melody. 

I took the early bus home from first grade. I had 45 minutes alone until my older siblings came on the later bus. 45 minutes of pure freedom. And it was our green living room hassock that told me to climb on, and perform it to no one. It was a big step up. My knee bent almost to my chin as I hoisted myself aboard. “You better wait a minute…” I began singing, “Mr. Po-oh-oh-oh-ostman…won’t you check and see, one more time for me…”  I quickly climbed back down and opened the drapes to the gravel road, still dusty from the bus. It wasn’t so people could see me – there was no one on this road – it was for me – so I could feel the light on me! It also gave me a direct view of our mailbox. I climbed back on and sang and jumped. Shaking my long blonde hair in the afternoon sun…”deliver de letter, de sooner de better…” 

I’ve heard it said recently that we used to do things for love, and now we do things just to get “likes.” I’ll take it even further and say, we, I, used to do things for the pure joy of it all. I had no aspirations of becoming a singer, or a dancer. Because I was one. For 45 minutes, in the audience of an empty Van Dyke road, I was a singer. I was a dancer. I didn’t need anyone to confirm it or deny it. Or even like it. Because I did. It brought me nothing but joy. Heart racing, voice raising, hassock denting joy!!!

I only mention it because I find the same green calling to me lately. It’s my palette. It brings me joy. There are videos on “the colors for 2023” that I have never watched, and never will. I know what colors I need right now. I know which ones bring me joy. So I paint in them. In the light of my studio window, I am free to be an artist, free to be me!

I hope you can find it. Today and every day. The things that bring you joy. And when you do, my only suggestion is to throw those curtains wide!!

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Allowed in.

I cried in front of the stack of books. I was only six. I wasn’t sad, but overwhelmed by the choice. So much beauty. I couldn’t believe I was allowed inside this magnificent place. The Alexandria public library.

My first Saturday morning. I climbed the stairs. Opened the door. The fragrance was intoxicating. I thought it was the sweet smell of words. I loved the smell. I saw the believers open the books and place their faces inside. I did the same. Someone would tell me later that it was just the paper. No, that couldn’t be right. I asked the librarian. She could see what I wanted to believe. What I needed to believe. It is the words, she said, and smiled a secret agreement that has never left my heart.

My mother dropped me off at the bottom of those stairs every Saturday morning. My faith only grew stronger. I became joyfully entangled. Fingers tracked through the card catalog. Then tracing the spines along the shelves. Seeing it. Pulling the desired book out slowly. Cracking the spine. Breathing in the ticket to ride. Then taking the journey.

When they told me they were publishing my first book, the tears streamed down my face. I would be in those hands. Those believing hands. I would waft into the faces, the hearts, and the beauty of all that was overwhelming, the beauty of once again, being allowed in.

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Fixer Upper

We never shopped at thrift stores when we were young. It wasn’t in fashion then. And even worse, I think we thought of it as demeaning. And by we, I mean culturally, because frankly, our status in the community was the least of my mom’s worries. 

I’m not sure exactly when it changed. But it has completely flipped. Now it’s cool. Encouraged. Celebrated even. It’s even a verb!  “Look what I got thrifting!” People are making fortunes taking videos of themselves at Goodwill. And it’s not just clothes. Its the same for houses. The world is completely addicted to the show Fixer Upper. Myself included. 

We are able to see things differently. And this is beautiful. That old house is now potential. Potential!  Imagine that! It’s not ugly. It’s paint worthy.

I bought a pair of jeans at the thrift store. We only go there maybe once or twice a year when we visit the US. The clerk remembered us. It felt so good to be remembered. Yes, I loved the jeans. And $7, that’s hard to beat, but to be remembered – to me, that’s just another way of being valued.  I smiled in the car mirror – this smile — Look what I got thrifting!

We can do this for each other you know. Change the way we see things. See others with potential. See them as worthy – maybe even ourselves – no matter what condition we are in.  Beauty. Love. Maybe the greatest gift each of them holds is the ability to change. 

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A library of love.

“Whenever an elder dies, a library burns down.” ― Amadou Hampâté Bâ

“It was a babysitter,” she said, “not that many years older.” It was just her and her brother Ron at the time. It was a rare occasion – her parents going to town. She remembered her name. What she looked like. This babysitter. For 80 years she remembered. This girl who tried to take her from the house. Told her terrible things. Terrible things she wanted to do to her. This girl who tried to take her behind the barn. But my mother, strong before her time, pulled and kicked and released herself from the grip. Without explaining why, she told her mother she never wanted that babysitter again. And this is the part that I hold on to – without questioning, my grandma agreed, and never let this girl near the house again. My grandma loved my mother. Eventually, if we’re lucky, I suppose, all stories turn out to be love stories.

She was at the kitchen table, picking at the boxed lunch they prepared for her because as she said, “I already paid for it.” I was at the stove, preparing something that we would share together. I don’t know how we happened upon the conversation. But when we arrived, I turned the burner down and sat beside my mom. This felt important.

Tears fell down my face. She wasn’t upset, my mother, “just releasing,” she said. It was one of those stories that hadn’t made it out, and it was time — time to save this one last book before the library burned down.

I think we did. I know we tried. To save every book. Every story. Every one of her stories. Every one of mine. And so now, each morning, I lay a brick on the new library. Building it, word by word. Story by story. A library of love.

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A head start.

My favorite breakfast is toast with lavender honey. And not just any toast — toast from my homemade bread. I don’t think it’s bragging to say I like my bread best. I think it’s lucky. How great is it that I have the power to make my favorite bread?!  If I want it – I can make it. For me, that’s beyond just “Oh, I like the taste of that…”  It means that I can start the day with something I love. I can begin the day and know that even if nothing else spectacular happens the rest of the day — it started out really well.

We all need to do this for ourselves, every day — give ourselves a head start — a fighting chance as we make our way. So much is out of our control. But we can do the little things. Like making bread. Or simply being kind – to each other — to ourselves.  

I don’t know what the day will bring. None of us do. But I do know this, mine has started out sweet. And I am on my way.

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Music’s permission.

If you don’t believe in souls, you probably just haven’t listened to the right music yet.

There were four of us. We only had enough money for two tickets. And barely that. We knew the bartender who worked the bar across the street from the State Theatre in Minneapolis. He let us drink water for free in the corner booth. Two of us went to the first half of the Lyle Lovett concert. While the other two waited anxiously to switch at intermission. 

Oh how we loved his music. They hadn’t even labeled him yet as “alternative” — we weren’t looking for labels then, only experiences. We loved his music. It was different. Accepting. Stories that made you laugh. Feel. Glorious stories that were played loud and clear at the Loring cafe. Combined with too much coffee, we drank in each song and hopped from used velvet sofas to bursting overstuffed chairs, and we began creating our own stories. It was youth. It was permission.

Driving home from Marseille yesterday we were stuck in traffic. Our travel time tripled. I turned up Lyle’s Road to Ensenada. Even Dominique knows all the words. (I’ve played it before.) We sang loudly. No longer trapped, but transported. To Louisiana. Alabama. Texas. Open free flowing roads of love and heartbreak and laughter and youth. Words tangled and twisted in different directions — telling the familiar stories in the most unique ways. And there was no time. Only permission — permission for our souls to travel, to feel!  To be free!

John Prine puts me on the back of a motorcycle. Lucinda Williams in Lake Pontchartrain. Madeleine Peyroux strolls me through Paris. Paul Simon vacations me everywhere with Dominique. Frank Sinatra rests me on Sunday afternoons with my mother. I believe in souls. I’ve heard mine sing – “sings, how it rings in my ears…” 

Turn it up, my friends! Take your soul for a ride.