Jodi Hills

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


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Fake books.

I had no idea. I saw youtube preview on decorating – the ten essential things he said he couldn’t live without. Was I living without? I decided to watch.

The usual suspects. Candles. Sure. Pillows. I’m in. But when he arrived at number four or five, he lost me. He pulled two large books from the bookcase. (You know I love books. I love words. I love anything bound together.) He was so excited — “Look you guys, fake books!” Nothing inside. Empty pages with fancy covers. He explained that you can get them for almost nothing and decorate your shelves. I still can’t believe it, even as I’m typing this. (Typing with the words that mean so much to me.)

Now, I love to “decorate” with books as well. Real books. Books that I have read. Books with words that still hover throughout the house. They have a life. A meaning. Books with paintings. Books with photographs. I love them all. They have an ever giving depth.

I suppose I want this with everything. Everyone. I want books with words. Slow cooked meals. Wine that has aged. And friends with souls. Deep souls. I don’t want fake — anything. 

There is so much pressure to have the best shelves, the most “friends,” the largest group of “followers.” Quantity. Quantity. Quantity. At any price. But as I see it, the only things worth having have to be real. Give me real. I want my shelves to be filled with the stories of life. The real stories. Even mine.

So I offer you this, from my imperfect heart — my pages may be tattered, dog-eared, but they will be filled with life, a real life, a gathering of cherished words. If we offer each other this, maybe life won’t always be pretty, but oh how rich it, we, will be!


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All the places I’ve been, I feel like going home.

For years I searched for “home.” Then I began to write about it. Paint it. And slowly, as most answers come, it became clear that “home,” not unlike “happiness,” was nothing to be found, but created. Continuously. Moment by moment. Bit by bit. So I did. I do.

You may think, oh, that’s too much work… but no, it was a relief. It IS a relief — a relief to stop searching, and just be. I think they both (this home, this happiness) have to be fluid, ever changing. Because everything does change. What made me happy twenty years ago, yesterday, is not the same as today. So I have to change. Grow. Decide even. What gives me joy? What gives me comfort? Right here. Right now. And live in that. And in giving myself the permission, the power, to change, to grow, and to decide, I feel — well, happy — and I can live here (wherever that may be), in this heart, in this moment, and think, this is home.


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You are part of my story, and it is beautiful.

Becky gave me one red cherry yesterday.  It was delicious. I named our cherry tree Becky. It seemed so obvious to me. Tom Sawyer describes Becky Thatcher when he first sees her, “the new girl in the garden… a lovely little creature…wearing a white summer frock.” How could this not be our Becky — our lovely cherry tree. She is, in fact, the newest of our trees. She hasn’t yet produced what one might call a real crop. Just a smattering of red cherries, but the most beautiful cherries I have ever seen.  

Summertime, to me, will always mean youth. The days are brighter, longer. Everything greens and blooms and grows, and somehow, I feel, so do I. 

Probably the first to bloom in my brain were the words of Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer. Huckleberry Finn. At the time they seemed more real than almost anyone I knew.  They jumped off the page. They were alive. They were my American childhood.

Through the years these books have been banned. But then again, so have I. I remember one church that wouldn’t let us in because my mother was divorced. We couldn’t go to the golf club because we were too poor. (And this I realize is nothing compared to how others are banned, but I, we, felt it just the same.)  And maybe it’s childish, (and part of me hopes so, because how pure is that!) but I still believe that we can learn and grow and become better. We can treat people better. All people. We can take the light of summer and start to see who we really are. Possibly even bloom. Summer is so open. So freeing. Maybe we can be the same. 

The birds are singing. I see Becky swaying in the morning breeze. Everything is still possible.


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Under today’s sun.

My Grandma Elsie bought the breakfast cereal variety pack. Those animated boxes in every color! OH how we loved them. To reach into the cupboard and choose! This was something! Each box fit perfectly into our palms – already sweaty with the anticipation of sugar. Moons and stars and loops that changed the color of the milk, and our collective heart rates. Our legs fueled, we began the day running. There was so much to see on the farm, and we couldn’t do it fast enough. We didn’t want to miss a minute under the sun.

My cousins and I couldn’t be more different now. Living separate lives, in separate countries even. A variety pack for sure. What a glorious gift to have been given options. Choices. I suppose when you have it, this freedom, it’s easy to forget about it. But I don’t want to take it for granted. So many do not have this luxury. And it is a luxury!

Gratitude’s sweet sugar fills my heart, and I’m still racing. To write the words and paint the painting! To see the day! To live the life! I was given a gift and I don’t want to waste one minute, miss one minute, under today’s sun.


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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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Picture this.

By the end of the day, I am tired — which is a good thing. It’s a lot to keep one’s house in order. I don’t mean making sure there are no dishes in the sink (Well, of course I mean that too. I hate dirty dishes in the sink) but I mean the bigger picture. The bigger picture for me is working at my craft, painting, writing; learning (oh boy, I have so much to learn, not the least of which, French, and the toughest one, learning each day to be a better human); attending to the needs of those closest to me, which often includes just listening, caring, loving. My big picture might seem small, but it seems to fill my day. I can’t understand how people have the time to police the actions, thoughts, beliefs of others. It seems to me we all have enough to do to keep ourselves in order. How little exists in the life of a person who tries to control someone else?

Now I’m not saying we turn a blind eye to the events around the world. No. Absolutely not. (This for me falls under the being a better human category.) We stand up for what we believe in. But, in my humble, and maybe naive mind, I don’t think standing means knocking down the so-called others. But for one, aren’t we all others?

Being a human. This is something. Overwhelming at times for sure. But when my big picture gets way too big, I try to simply look around. Is there love? Yes. Is there hope? Sure! Is there joy? And how! Is the sink clear? You bet! (or that’s betcha for my Minnesota friends) I grab the nearest sketchbook and paint a pear. I call my mother. I kiss my husband. I take a walk in the sun. More than enough to fill my heart, to fill my day.


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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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Lifted.

All of the trees in my grandparents’ yard were climbable, I suppose, but especially one. It was one of the biggest. It faced the road. Someone, I don’t know who, had pounded in strips of wood. If you could get one foot on the lowest piece, and reach your hand up to another, and pull, with all of your might, then up you would go.

There were 27 of us grandchildren. That tree had been marked and carved by every kind of shoe. And it stood strong. As strong, I imagine, as our need to get higher, to see more. get above and beyond.

And we did. We climbed. Higher and higher. And then, each of us, on different days, different years, we got high enough, and brave enough, and off we flew. With all of our wildly different high hopes.

I have flown far and wide, with the memory of trees — the strength of those who gave me a start, a rung to climb. And I give thanks. For I have been lifted, daily, knowing, we never really fly alone.


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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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…and if I did that for you

I am working feverishly to prepare for the launch of my new website. Taking photos, scanning, making new prints, cards, displays. I am always surprised at how subjective the eyes are. At first glance, I see what I want to see. Then I look again. Wait. Is that the best scan? Is that the right color? Then the camera shows  a different look. Then I put it on the computer, and there is something else I didn’t see. And wait, print it out on paper – oh, yes, another look. And still, I show it to someone, and they see something different. 

When I painted this wren, I know what I was thinking, so my eyes saw that story. When I showed it to my friend, she saw her sister. And I saw her heart. When I painted the image of our coffee pot, my husband’s son said he could see our reflection in the image. Did I paint it there, or does his heart just know us, know our home, our kitchen, our breakfast table? 

We see the world with our hearts, our minds, our experiences. And if we’re lucky, we see, too, through the eyes of those around us. It’s really not enough to just look. We have to start seeing each other in every possible light. 

…and if you did, see that I am not just my face, but all that I have faced, and if I did that for you…