Jodi Hills

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


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Days of thanks.

This past Labor Day, we visited Washington, D.C. It was a warm day — just enough heat to let down your defenses and let you feel at one with nature. No difference between your body temperature and the air surrounding you. We walked freely and easily to each monument. The stairs to Lincoln were long and high, and worth each sweaty step. I couldn’t help but notice each of us wore a warm and glistening glow, from the sun sure, the labor of the steps, but mostly, I think, from the hope and promise that sat before us.


With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, it is good to remember how Lincoln transformed this holiday for us all. There is much controversy with the holiday beginnings, as there should be, I suppose, but Lincoln took the holiday and turned it into a day of thanks, for all to celebrate.
It was Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of the popular magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, who began using her columns to push for nationalizing Thanksgiving and celebrating it on the last Thursday in November. (A good woman behind every man as they say – and this time – out in front). She wrote a letter to Lincoln, stressing the urgency of making Thanksgiving “a National and fixed Union Festival” that would offer healing to a torn nation.

After receiving her letter, Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as a day when we would give thanks “as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People,” including “my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands.”


This “sojourner” wants to give thanks, every day. I understand how blessed, I am, we are, to stand in the labor, the hope that each day brings.


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This little light of mine.

We got a new vacuum cleaner. It has a very bright headlight. It was amazing, and a little bit frightening, what I could see in the corners, under furniture — see what I had been missing. The great revealer, this light. It was so satisfying to know that I was actually making a good cleaning. It felt good, and I found myself vacuuming with enthusiasm. I can’t go back now, to the old vacuum, the old way…I know too much.

I suppose it’s that way with everything. At least I would hope so. But in so many ways, I think we are failing. In the few minutes of news a day that I allow myself (my heart can’t take too much), I see, what I can only call filth. The absolute worst of us, making the same mistakes over and over. And we allow it. We shine the light on it, and still refuse to see it. We have to do better than this. We know better. Right and wrong are not that difficult to see.

Get your house in order, they say. And I guess that’s right. I will do my best in my little corner of the world. Try to make it as beautiful as I can. It was what we were taught, wasn’t it? This little light of mine? I’m gonna let it shine.


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To flutter.

I woke up to another 5-star review on my Etsy page. She said my painting “was her very favorite in her whole house!” Just a few words strung together, but they fit perfectly into my heart and filled it!
It’s amazing what we can do for each other. Just the tiniest bits of kindness. Humanity. It’s so contagious. I give you a piece of my heart. You pass it along to someone else. It flutters and flies and fills the air.


Some will call it the butterfly effect — how the simple flapping wings of butterflies in India can change the weather in Iowa. I am not a scientist, but I have seen this play out with humans. I have seen the flapping of kindness change the behavior of many. I have seen the soaring effects, the light and airy beauty of it all. And I want to be a part of it. A part of the beauty. Of the changes.


Today, can we let go of all the things that are weighing us down? The weapons of bigotry, and hate. Fear and anger. Can we just let them go and fly? Oh, how I hope so! Let’s fill the sky. We can be the change.
I’ll see you up there!


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Unstoppable.

During our latest trip to the US, I got to see one of my dearest friends. When we pulled into the parking lot of her building, I started to get emotional. I opened the door and I could see she was crying. That laughing cry that’s unstoppable. We danced around each other, so overcome with emotion we didn’t know where to land.
It had been a while for my eyes, but in my heart, no time had passed at all. We could finish each other’s sentences and jokes. We had shared everything. Our time. Our experiences. Our stories. Our fears. Our laughter. Our gum. Nothing had changed. Even as I’m typing this, my heart swells. She has seen me on my best days, and on my worst, and has befriended me unconditionally. And I will forever do the same for her.


You might think we are exactly the same. But other than our name, we really share nothing in common. We have lived, and continue to live completely different lives. We have different interests. Live in different countries. But for some glorious reason, she knows the language of my heart, and I hers.


I will never downplay the importance of family. But how can I stress the true importance of real, real and true friendship? I want to invent a new word. Because friend isn’t enough. Sister isn’t enough. So for now I will just say, she is my Jody Skinner. My one and true Jody Skinner.


I hope you all have one. This forever friend. This person that can crumple you in a fit of laughter. This person that holds so close to your heart, no matter the time. No matter the distance. Today, I encourage you to pick up the phone. Write a letter. Send an email. Do something. Hold them close. Together, you will be unstoppable.


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Belonging.

At first, she was always surprised that she was accepted. And more than that, looked to, her company welcomed – enjoyed. How could she fit it? She didn’t have the money, the pedigree – but no one else thought that. She came with me across the country. To shows in Minneapolis, Chicago, New York. She dressed in her curated, tasteful style – tall, elegant, crisp white collars – popped to present her ever smiling face. I was so proud to have her stand beside me, my mom. She knew the pricing, the availability, and more than that, she knew the stories behind each piece of art, each book, each card.


This didn’t surprise me. I knew she could do it. But the real gift came for me when I saw that she knew she could do it. When I saw her belonging. Belonging, not because someone told her she did, but belonging because she herself felt it in her heart, her soul, her being. This is something!!!! To belong.


I think she’s still delighted when people remember her, from galleries in New York, shops in the Midwest, bookstores across the country. And why wouldn’t they?! I’m delighted! I’m delighted every time she tells me what she’s wearing to her doctor’s appointment. She makes the effort, and oh some days what an effort it takes!!! Because she belongs here, in her own skin, in this beautiful life that she has made.


I walked into the art gallery in Rhode Island. The neon sign read, “You belong here.” I knew it in my heart. My soul. My being. This was not my first glowing sign, my mother will always be that.


Welcome to this day. You belong here.


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In plain sight.

We were going through some of my grandmother’s things after she passed away. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Nor my hands. There it was. Something I had made when I was in 5th grade art class. A piece of bark from a local tree. A few pink straw flowers glued inside a crevice. An angled piece of wood nailed to the back so it would stand. And oh, how it stood – for decades. It stood for family and belonging. It stood for a life recognized. Seen. Mattered. And so I return the favor now, with her picture standing next to my sewing machine. Her picture guiding me through each stitch. A life – her life – one that is seen, recognized. A life that matters. Still.

When I walk into my brother-in-laws house in Aix en provence, the first thing I see is the painting I did of three yellow apples. Even if I fumble the language. Stumble over the culture. I am seen. I belong. What a gift! Oh, how it matters to this imported heart!

The thing is, we think “Oh, they must know…” But people don’t always know, until you show them. Show them how you feel. And even if they do know – a reminder, well, that just feels good. All the time!

Here’s to living in plain site! I see you! I give thanks for you. Every day!


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With strings attached.


I wasn’t sure if I’d remember. It’s been over a month since I made bread. But this morning my hands pulled out the flour, and yeast and sugar and oil. Sprinkled in a little salt without my having to think. They knew. They have done it a countless times before and needed no direction.


And so it is with seeing old friends. I saw her at Starbuck’s and our smiles challenged each other for size. Had it been minutes or more than a year, my heart didn’t know, didn’t care, it loved with no need for direction. We talked about nothing and everything. She gave me two dish cloths. Knit by her own hands. Folded. Tied with the tiniest of bows. Strings that attach directly to my heart.


Friendship doesn’t need conditions, but it does need strings. Strings that attach.


While we were at my mom’s, a dear friend of hers brought over a batch of cookies – made with her own hands. They were delicious, but more than that. They were time and care and concern and friendship. Strings that attached.


I have always trusted the makers. Those who use their hands and hearts to show you their love. And so I make the bread, and the words and the paintings to show you mine. I reach out. I reach back. Forever attached.


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The show

The show.

My first solo show in France was in a cathedral in Carpentras. You can imagine the size by its title “cathedral” – had it been small, I guess it would have been a church. And it was huge! Both impressive and intimidating. How would I fill such a space?

The answer was in the window of the small house next to the cathedral. It was one of the most beautiful windows I had ever seen. It stopped me in the street. Bold red shutters framed the window, dressed in the most delicate lace, and accented with flowers that grew on the sill. The marks from the latches breathed a daily opening. This window was alive. It was filled with life. And I knew what my show would represent – a life – my life.

I filled the cathedral with my story — with the same hopes of presenting, I guess, just like this window, that someone lives here. Someone lives in these paintings. Amid all of these colors and strokes is a life, framed with the boldness of red, the fragility of lace and the daily growth of a flower.

The largest cathedrals we have to fill are the lives we are living. And life, for sure, can be both impressive and intimidating, but oh, how beautiful! What a show! How are you going to fill yours today? Open the shutters wide — let’s begin.


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Welcome

You have to dare to give of yourself, as freely

as the gift was given. As freely as this gift said yes to you, you

have to do the same. You have to say, yes, I see!

You have to be bold enough to embrace it, even when others will

tell you it isn’t there. That YOU aren’t there. You have to be bold

enough to say, I have been given a gift. I have been given a life

that is worthy of being seen. I am here. And that is something!” Jodi Hills

Dominique received a wine refrigerator for a gift. It arrived on a pallet. That was a gift for me. I took the pallet apart. No easy task. The extra long nails put up a fight, as I imagine they should – it’s their job. On a rainy afternoon, I separated each piece of wood. I cut the boards into equal lengths. Put them in my handmade square (also made out of scrap wood), nailed them together, and secured them with equal lengths on the back. It was strong. I sanded the new piece, smooth, but still revealing it’s beautiful flaws. It had been through a journey to get here, so why not show that? I gave it a light stain, then began to paint. And she arrived. Slowly, hair, eyes, a comforting smile. She would be my welcome into the studio. She would be my, “Well, we’re open. I’ve been waiting for you.”

You have to claim it.  This is my special place. I want anyone who enters, literally or virtually, to know it. And I need to remind myself of it, every time I pass through that beautiful door to my studio. I have been given a gift. I used to be afraid to say that – like maybe it sounded like I was bragging – but no, it is exactly the opposite. I have been given a GIFT – and what a gift – to be able to do what I love!  This is life! The thing is -we all have – we’ve all been given a gift!  But we do have to claim it. We have to be bold enough to live it – pull at the dirty nails and shape and form and glue and paint! We have to be bold enough to live it. 

So I welcome myself to this day. I welcome you to this day! We are here!!! And that is really something! (Oh, and I almost forgot – there’s also the wine.)


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Harmony.

Harmony.Jan was always first chair of the clarinet section. From the fifth grade, through senior high, I don’t remember a time when she didn’t sit proudly in the first row, right in front of the conductor. I don’t know if she felt the competition. I’m sure she practiced. A lot more than the rest of us. For some reason, I never saw band as a sport. For me, it was about the collective music. As individuals, (but for the exceptions like Jan) we really didn’t sound that good. But there is a phenomenon in music when people perform together, even if not everyone is in tune, or in sync, collectively it just sounds better. And that sound carried us. Held us. Gathered us in. I didn’t think of myself in the second row, I was part of the band. I belonged.

Yesterday, at our Easter table, we gathered. American, French, German. Through the years, we have navigated to our respective chairs. My husband at the head, me just next to him. Grown children – their children, in-laws, all around. It is not lost on me that when I jump from my chair to gather something from the kitchen, more bread, more water, a bigger spoon, I pass by my clarinet that rests in the corner of the library. The music here is sung in many languages, (it doesn’t matter that my French is not that good, their English, not much better). In my own rhythm, I have found my place in the band. It is not a competition. We gather around, we gather in. Conversation and laughter play in tune, and the music gives us a place, a place at the table. The band plays on…