Jodi Hills

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


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Coffee on the table.

It has been a month since we had our coffee. We’ve had lots of coffee — lattes, iced and hot, dark roasts with cream, coffees from drip makers, espresso machines, pods — lots of coffee, but not ours. This morning I brewed the coffee in our Italian pot. It is simple. Strong. Fills the kitchen with the scent of morning. Fills our spirit with the taste of home. 

I painted this coffee pot years ago because it was a symbol to me of “falling in love with your own life.” It is still just that. And to start each day with that reminder is priceless, familiar, comforting — I guess that’s home.

But it takes an effort though. You have to search. Try different things. Take different paths. Stumble. Fall. Get up again, all in order to find this place. And then maintain it. I suppose the best way is just through gratitude. So I give thanks for this morning pot of coffee. I give thanks for this love. This life. This home. 

There’s coffee on the table, and kindness in the air. We begin. Good morning!


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Looking for things to steal.

I guess I’m always looking for things to steal – two petite jars of French honey from First Class, and a glance of the Eiffel Tower through my passenger’s window on the right.

It’s a standing joke I have with friends. They have good taste. And as a compliment, I say if I were a different person, I would totally steal it. I have filled my imaginary bags of loot through the years, and we laugh. But the truth is, I am always trying to take something with me. The funniest line over dinner. Maybe a recipe. That feeling of pure comfort that only comes from true relationships. True hearts. Those moments that you can’t quite put your finger on, but want them never to end. MAGIC. That’s all I’m really trying to steal, a bit of the magic.

We just landed in Paris. My safe is full. Thank you, Mom. Minnesota. Alexandria. Friends. Family. History that begins and begins. Forever thieves of time. Of hearts. You have mine. I carry yours.


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Coffee spoons.

I suppose it all comes down to relationships. The cherry on top.

There was a store in Minneapolis, four stores really – the Bibelot shops. They ordered big, and consistently. As we drove through Linden Hills yesterday, it all came back so clearly. I would make that drive almost weekly. Loaded up my car with the pictures and books and cards. Drove through the manicured streets. Off of France. Toward lake Harriet. Unloaded the car to smiles. Seeing my items on full display, my heart was full. I belonged. And it was nice, the money, it was how I made my living of course, but it was more than that — it was the relationships. I had so much respect for the owner – Roxy. A single mother who created the stores herself. From nothing, into something grand! Prosperous. Beautiful! All this success and she was kind. Welcoming. To me. To my mother. And each of her employees reflected her. I would meet the buyers in New York. Both tall and beautiful, they stood out from the crowd. I could see them coming from far away, and my heart beat strong. I knew I would have an order. I knew I would be seen. What a glorious thing for this small fish in this gigantic pond.

My hands waved out the car windows as I relayed these memories to Dominique. Memories on every street. Coffee here. Friends here. Sundays here. Wine here. Shopping here. My first museum. First photo shoot in this studio. Life opened here. I was T.S. Eliot pointing out all of my “coffee spoons” — “for I have know them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, morning, afternoon, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

Oh, to be blessed with all the cherries. I’m sitting in a friend’s condo as I type this. It is beautiful, certainly. I love the beds and pillows. The view of the Galleria. The French soap. The candy drawer. But mostly it’s because they share it with us. To know we have friends like this — how red, round and sweet!

Reach out your hands today – arms length – it is a day to be measured.


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Waking in color.

I can still feel it when I go into the hospital – any hospital – any country… I am a teenager, and the doctor’s are rebuilding me joint by joint. Most of the time, it started the same. In the dark of early morning. (I still don’t like waking in the dark.) We’d often stay, my mom and I, at my Aunt Karolyn’s house in Minneapolis. She would take us out at the crack of dawn. None of us having slept. Anxiety that we all carried in different ways behind slight smiles. Quietly we’d weave into the shift worker’s traffic. She’d drop us off at the nearest door. Forms were filled. Each letter rising higher in my throat. Gowns. IVs. I can feel my heart tighten as I type. I don’t know if it was worse being put to sleep, or waking up from the anesthesia. I threw up going in, and coming out. But I made it. We made it.

Wheeled back into that generic room, she stood out like a flower – my mom. Tall. Dressed in yellow, or turquoise. Her signature colors. Her signature warmth. And I was saved. Over and over we did it. 20 times. And she was there.

Nurses would often say, “Oh, I can tell you are mother and daughter.” “Oh, yes, you look alike.” “I can see it!” And mostly what I felt was relief. Yes, it was a compliment, I thought she was beautiful, is beautiful. But what I saw in her, every time I woke up in a strange room, a sterile room, she was color, she was familiar, she was warmth, she was home. And if they could see even a tiny bit of that in me, then I thought, now I don’t just have something to save me, I have something to give.

And I do. I try anyway. In every card, painting, book. I want you to feel the comfort in it all. The words. The paint. I want you to awaken to the colors I’ve been given. The colors I share with you. The colors that are bursting inside of you right now. Feel the compliment of love. The security. The joy. The love, and then pass it on. We’ll all be saved.


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Dabbling through time.


In my dream this morning, I was trapped in some sort of a space continuum. I say “some sort of” like I actually know what any kind of a space continuum is… In my dream I did though. There were all of these pockets of time to move through, and in some we would get stuck, trapped, others pushed us away. I suppose, not a lot different from real time.

We had Mallards in the lake across from our house. A lake not clean enough for swimming. With ducks that didn’t seem all that “special.” Everyone wanted to see the Loons. Wanted to hear the call of the Loon. It was haunting. Celebrated. Told a story of love’s travels like a train in the distance. We had the trains. We had the quacks of the Mallards. But I wanted a Loon. Wanted to be a Loon.

It was one of our science teachers that told us they were dabbling ducks. Dabblers. I liked the name. And suddenly these Mallards became more interesting. They had a story. And now, when I walk by the lake, see them tip over like a tea kettle, I smile. They are dabbling for their life, popping up and down, through pockets of time and lake.

Life on Van Dyke Road is a pocket of time for me. I travel in and out of it. There were many hard times. But I found that I too am a dabbler – able to tip over and pick out the goodness and pop myself up again. I tell my story, not always with the glorious call of the Loon – the voice I thought I needed, but still, I am proud to quack it aloud. I am a dabbler, from Minnesota. And I will continue to pop myself up, and tell my story, our story, again and again. We can’t all be loons, but we all have a song.


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In the flutter.

It’s funny to see sea gulls in the parking lot by Cub Foods.  No sea. No lake. (And there would be a lot to choose from.) Was there even a puddle? You have wings, I thought. It seemed so clear. Just fly. There is so much better out there for you. And you’ve been given the tools. 

How many times have I told that to myself through the years? It’s so easy to get stuck. To settle.  But I’m learning. Every day. Seeing. The value of time not wasted. Gifts not wasted. Seeing. The choices. Myself. And that’s the key I suppose. First you have to see yourself. Really look. Is this what you wanted? Is this what you think you deserve? A parking lot puddle? Or are you willing to take a chance on yourself? Take a chance on your own wings and fly?  

Nobody told me that I had wings. (But I could hear it in the flutter.) No one told me to paint. To write. To explore. No one said, you know you really are worthy of true love — from others, from yourself. And even as I’m typing this, I’m not sure anyone can – which is ironic I suppose, because I’m trying to tell you. And smiling. So I’ll only tell you this —- You do have wings. What you do with them is your choice. How you live, how you love, it’s all up to you. I can only suggest, flap around a little, listen to the flutter, it’s telling you, “There is so much more than puddles.”


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Buoyed



I suppose it’s cliche, but it all seems so small. The lifeguard stands. Only a few steps up. But I guess they didn’t need to see that far — were the buoys always in that close?

The risks were real though. For some reason, it didn’t seem that frightening. The signs were clearly marked — “Swim at your own risk,” but in we ran, past the lifeguards, without a care.

I carry those words with me, even today – “Swim at your own risk.” Because that was the real lesson. I learned it early. We were all on our own really. Even with the lifeguards in their stands. The chances we would take, our own. But with them came the greatest rewards. Mostly confidence and joy. When I think about it, the real joy, (and I’m talking belly-full of buoyed kind of joy) came only from taking the chance.) That’s how I want to live. Forever.

She asked me if I thought everyone was an artist? Yes, I said. But people don’t believe it, she said. No. I guess mostly they are afraid. To allow yourself to be that vulnerable, that open, that means taking a chance. A big chance. But children can do it. Yes, I said. And I see it now, so clearly. Maybe children can do it because everything seems so big. The giant lifeguards in their giant stands. They seemed huge — it all seemed so certain. As we get older, bigger, we see the things put in place to “save us” aren’t really that big at all — actually quite small. And the certainties seem few. So we think smaller. Take fewer chances.

But I don’t want to live like that. I climbed into the lifeguard stand. I would be asked to save myself, again and again. I am a swimmer. And an artist. I am going to be scared, sure, but I am going to be buoyed by the pure joy of taking the chance! Belly-full!


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Being a cardinal.

We never imagined ourselves as the toughest. We were birds. We played other schools that were tigers, bears, bison, wolves, eagles even… And when I say we played, we really did play. We had fun. I’m not certain if that’s why everyone joined, but I think so. And we were proud to be cardinals. Lovely red birds who played in the afternoons. No one was ever really threatened or intimidated by us, the cardinal girls, but still in the song we sang on the bus, we deemed ourselves mighty — “We are the cardinals, mighty, mighty cardinals, everywhere we go – oh, people wanna know- oh, who we are – so we tell ‘em… (and repeat).

And I think mighty be the exact right word here. Sure, we competed. We even won sometimes. But there was so much more. We did everything together. Dressed together. Hoped together. Sang together. Won and lost. Even cried sometimes. All together. And those years in school, when hope was really all I had — to do it together, was everything. And maybe only a couple of girls knew my story, but it didn’t matter. I don’t think we needed details. They didn’t seem to. I was part of something, and I, we, knew it was way more important than being the best – it was about wanting the best for each other. Being a part of something bigger than ourselves — I guess that, by my definition is mighty.

We were on the radio yesterday. Telling our story. What a delight! How did we fit together? How did we fit in this town? It felt like red and black joy. I was, again, a dancing cardinal!

It’s human nature I suppose to want to know all the details. But when you are welcomed, just for being you, brought into the colors without judgement, oh, what a feeling! People who will laugh with you. Ride with you. Win and lose with you, and still find a reason to sing — surround yourself with these people — people filled with hope, friendship and love — this is one mighty team! Everywhere I go-oh, I want people to know-oh, Yes, I am a cardinal…


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Next year’s garden.

Maybe there’s only two ways to look at things — there is no point to anything, or there is a point to everything.

I am a bedmaker. Some might ask, “What’s the point? — You’re going to mess it up again tonight.” I understand. But for me, I like a made bed, so I make it. And it matters to me. It starts my day the way I like it. So it goes with everything, I suppose, we either decide that it matters or it doesn’t. And that’s how I fill my day. My time here.

One of my dearest friends is a hospice nurse. She had a patient. A woman. This woman knew what was happening. She was completely aware. Not naive to the very brief time ahead. But one day, when this hospice nurse arrived, the woman was busy. She was planning next year’s garden. What would be planted and where. Seeds. Earth. Growth. All going down on the plan. On the paper. And that’s how they spent their day. Their whole day. Another nurse asked, “Well, is she in complete denial?” “No,” my friend said, “Today she just wanted to spend the day living. Not dying. Doing something she loved.”

I pray I do this every day — spend the day living. So I write the stories. Paint the paintings. Some might ask what’s the point? Did the painting sell? Were the words best sellers? The point is in the doing. The making. The living. And it matters. I have to believe that. So I wake up early, sort through the words — the seeds of my heart — and I plant my garden. Every day.

Here’s to forever gardening.


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September 11th

It fills today’s square on my mother’s calendar — Phyllis Norton’s birthday. Yesterday my mom told me to send her a message on Facebook. I will, I said. Maybe you should do it today, she suggested. I’ll do it tomorrow, I said. Don’t forget, she said. I won’t forget, I promised.

It seems I, we, have made that promise to this day before. September 11th. We all know where we were 21 years ago. How we felt. The fear. The uncertainty. I was going to pick up an order of frames from Metropolitan Picture Framing. I had a big order to fill. The Minneapolis Streets were almost empty. People were paralyzed. The skies were empty overhead. Do I still get my frames? Do I just keep doing what I’m doing? Did any of it matter? We all had the questions. But this was the life I had promised myself. The life of an artist. Painting. Writing. Creating. I had to keep going. We all had to. And we did feel like a “we” then…didn’t we. Together. We banded together. Vowed to ourselves and the world that this would not break us. Not individually. Not as a nation. No, we vowed to be strong.

And I think we were, for a while. Together. We braced hands on each other’s shoulders to lift us off of our knees of prayer. Shook those same hands and vowed to work together. Clapped those hands together in praise and we did survive. Stronger. And then years went by, as they always do, and hands unlocked. Waving goodbye to all those promises we had made, all those promises that said, if you just get us through this, we will be better, we will never forget. And worse yet, some of those waving hands turned into fists. We started to lose our way, and more importantly, our “we.”

I suppose it is human nature to move on. But we promised to never forget. So how do we keep those big promises – the big promises of a nation to do better, live better, be stronger together? As I look at my mother’s calendar, maybe the answer is, we keep all the little promises. All the little promises we’ve been making since we were young. Be a good girl, my mother told me, as I went off to school. I promise. We promised our teachers to follow the golden rule. We promised our friends that we would be forever. Our neighborhoods that we would watch out for each other. We wrote birthdays on calendars. Anniversaries on cards. We promised to be loyal. To be kind. To be there. For each other.

So this is where it begins. Again. Today. We keep those beautiful little promises. We remember. Each other. Happy Birthday, Phyllis Norton.