Jodi Hills

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


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A soft touch.

The dentist told me that I’m brushing my teeth too hard. That was humbling. You’d think after brushing my teeth this long, I would know how to do it. “Doucement,” she said. (Meaning gently.)

When they say it never rains here, it’s not like the song…we live in one of the sunniest parts of the world. It’s in my nature not to waste it. While the sun is shining I think, “I can do this, and this, and don’t forget… keep going…” And I like it. I enjoy it. I need it. But once in a while, it’s in my best interest to just slow down a little. The universe, being much more wise, saw that maybe it was time for me to be calm. But it took a darkening of the skies, and a few loud rumbles to make it happen.

I turned on my desk lamp. Opened my sketchbook. Took out the colored pencils. Rolled them through my fingers. I like the sound of the wood clinking with possibility. I sketched out a bird. Slowly. Colored in it’s wings. Feathers. Found a pastel stick to create the white areas. Pastels require the softest of touch. Doucement. And there was my bird. My gentle, little, rainy day bird.

Sometimes we are hardest on ourselves. Impatient. Unforgiving. And we need a little reminder to be gentle. Take this bird to be just that. And be kind today — to yourself. Hold the pastel of your heart softly, without judgement, and know that it’s not wasteful to be still. It’s healthy, necessary. Doucement, my friends…Doucement.


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Angel in my hammock.

I come from a long line of fools — and I mean that in the most glorious and optimistic of ways. My grandparents fell for each other, as only fools can, and this I suppose, for me, is where it began. He was a farmer. I guess you have to be a dreamer, a believer, a bit of a fool, to make this your living. To plant something in the dirt. Believe in yourself, the work, the weather. Believe in it enough to turn the dirt into gold. I saw the magic. Year after year. I wanted to live like this. Love like this. In the most daring and foolish of ways. I still do. And it’s not hard to prove my case, as I sit typing this in another country.

I imagine it could all be explained away by angles and geometry, but yesterday, in the shade of the house, under the ever pines, the hammock was a glow. It shone in the most golden light. An angel, I thought. Resting in our hammock. And I smiled.

It’s probably foolish. I hope it is. It’s as foolish as when my mother helped me believe it was possible to carry a dream in your pocket. My foolish pocket, that was, is, always full.

Since I can remember, she told me it was necessary. I don’t know if that’s where my grandfather kept his, in the pocket of his overalls, but I know he carried one — one of these foolish dreams. I know my mother carries one still. When she orders her make-up from Macy’s. Looks at the Sundance catalog to see the next season of fashion. Walks around the building to keep her leg strength up. Reads her devotions to keep her heart strength up. Believes in the light of today. The possibility of tomorrow. Her pockets are full.

So the glowing hammock, for me, is nothing but pure magic. And I’m going to keep believing in it. I’m going to keep planting my words, to see what grows. Keep painting with the belief that you too will see the glow, the dream, the possibility of it all. Our glorious and foolish pockets full, turning each day into gold.


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Limitless.

I can still remember the smell — the sweetness of wax, color, and possibility — opening the box of Crayola crayons for the first time in Washington Elementary. I had a box of 24. Not the largest box, but not the smallest. And I loved it. Oh, how I loved it. 

Jackie sat next to me in a brand new designer mark dress — both her dress and hair, freshly ironed. I can see her opening that box of 64 — that box of 64 that also had the sharpener. I could hear the ooohs and aaahs of those who gravitated around her. What would she create? Oh, surely it would be beautiful! It had to be beautiful with all those colors!

Mrs. Strand directed us to sit at our desks. She told us to pull out our blank, white construction paper. Not our Big Chief tablets, those were ruled, she explained. Those we would use for writing. What I concluded from these directions then, with our paper and our crayons — there were no rules!  Yes, I thought! There was that smell of possibility once again. 

Mrs. Strand then gave us the gift that I am most grateful for – the gift of time. Time to create. Whatever you want, she said. I can still feel the paper between my fingers. The feel of how the waxy colors connected.

I never spoke in class. I was very shy — some said, painfully, but it felt good to me. I was just waiting. Preparing. And I used the 24. And combined and shaded. Multiplying my colors. Creating depth. Well beyond 24. Beyond 48. Beyond 64. It was limitless. I had time. And a quiet confidence. 

Someone had taught me. Through lesson or example, I can’t be sure. I suppose it was my grandfather, grandmother, mother — probably all three. Use what you have. This was so freeing. It kept me free from the jealous ooohs and aaahs. Kept me free from worrying about what every other “Jackie” had. This gift created a world of wonder at my own fingertips. It still carries me. 

I found a box of colored pencils yesterday. Probably Dominique’s kids left them behind. Almost unused. Pencils are not my normal medium, but there it was, a box full of possibility. So I took the time. I shaded and combined. And it was all limitless once again. No rules. No constraints. No numbers. It, I, smelled of everything possible.

The morning sun is rising. The sky is open with possibility. I’ll see you up there!


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Racing the wheat.

I’ve always gotten up early. Even as a kid, even (and maybe especially) in summertime. This extra light given, after a long Minnesota winter, this was something not to be missed. I would start wearing shorts as soon as the last patch of snow disappeared. My white winter-hidden legs were almost lavender. Exposed to the fresh, crisp air of sun’s warmth and freedom. It was as close to being a newborn as I could imagine. 

I suppose it was the possibility that I loved most of all. To be out in it. To be a part of it! Sun in my face, light breezes carrying, even lifting my knees, urging them to race — this is summer — this is life! And so I ran. I ran on gravel. I ran on tar. Slipped in morning’s wet dew. I ran in fields behind our house, racing the wheat – who would grow faster? 

It was always a surprise when the fields were cut. And my legs were tan. Where did summer go? But wasn’t it wonderful to still be surprised?!

I got up early this morning. Kissed by sun and warmth. Born again. Legs exposed — heart too – still believing that summer will never end.


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On being pink.

There is a pink blossomed tree in our front yard. Nestled against the greens, it really shines. But would it? Without this sea of green? These glorious supporting characters in this summer spectacular! And this is to take nothing away from them — each one, on any other given day when the pink is not in bloom, could play the leading role. Because they are not just green — these emerald, lime and apple greens, these olive, jade, even silver greens!  All beautiful! And maybe most importantly, all secure in their own worth. Secure enough to let the pink tree have it’s moment — to let the pink tree shine!

I’m not sure I would be able to notice this without the example my mother set for me. She, no wall flower, always wanted to present herself in the very best manner. She, who would stand in line for the Clinique promotion, memorize the best mirrors at Daytons, thumb through the catalogs, iron and pop her white collars — this beauty, was never, is never afraid to let me shine.  

What a gift! To be celebrated for all your pinkness! I suppose the only way to give thanks is to pass it on. To see, to allow, to find joy in the glorious colors of all. This, my friends, is a day to shine.  

“You do the impossible every day. You warm people with your own brilliant light, and make them believe it is they who really shine.” jodi hills


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Hope chest.

Before I knew what it was, I began filling mine. I had overheard some older cousins and aunts talking about it around my grandmother’s kitchen table. From what I knew of hope, you couldn’t actually see it, nor did I see any physical “chests” within this conversation, so I took it literally, as children often do, and assumed it was my own chest, the chest that housed my heart, and this I thought, was the place to put all the hopes that I could carry.

I walked around the farm that day. And I listened. My grandfather hoped for rain. I put it in my chest. My mother hoped for peace and an appetite. They fit in nicely. It felt exciting to fill my hope chest. I hoped my older cousins would pay attention to me. I smiled and put it in my chest. I felt safe, and almost powerful. And surprisingly, lighter. With everything I put in, I just became lighter. This was the real treasure, I suppose, learning that hope will never weigh you down.

Even when I learned the so-called truth of these hope chests years later, I stuck with my own version. I went to France with almost no belongings. They would have cost a fortune to ship. But what the airlines didn’t know, didn’t weigh, was “my hope chest” — my hope chest that was completely full, bursting even. Loaded with every story, every life event, every day survived, every smile, every dream — every, well, hope really — all still within me. 

And in my hope chest, there are no expiration dates. Everything remains fresh, light, and new. A small cage of ribs protects them easily. They are mine. As long as I’m willing to carry. 

You have one too, you know. Oh, how I encourage you to use it. Fill it. Walk with it daily. And see it for the real and only treasure there is – a heart filled with hope.


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Wings or weights.


Yesterday I was watching a short video on Youtube. I clicked on it because it was a beautiful, elderly woman, in her eighties, painting portraits. She was wearing a lovely scarf and skirt and smiling, with eyes and mouth. And it had the most interesting title – “All cats are black.” She had one of those voices that immediately drew you in. She began, “I’m just going to say it, I wanted to be beautiful…that’s all I wanted, there, I said it.” She went on to explain that she wanted to be beautiful because then she thought maybe her mother would love her. And, oh, how she wanted, needed to be loved. Just a mere baby, she was sent off to boarding school. On a visit home, still a baby, she was in the back seat of their car, driving home at night. She said to her mother, “I think I might look pretty in this light.” Her mother replied, “All cats are black at night, I suppose.” I will pause here to let you catch your breath. I know I needed to. What a horrible thing to say! My heart broke for her. Just a string of eight words. A string of eight words that slipped so easily off of her tongue. Slipped so easily off her tongue and (you might think I will say “broke her daughter’s heart) weighted on her daughter’s heart. I say weighted, because broke would be too simple. Broke means maybe you can fix it. Repair it. But weighted. Weighted is constant. A continuous burden. And she carried this burden for 65 years. A string of words for 65 years. Finally, through life, and living, and constantly searching for beauty, through painting portraits, she started to see it in others. See the beauty, even in herself. And she let it go. She let it go…. What a relief to save yourself. And she did. I suppose this is what first caught my eye – this was her beauty!

There are so many things I could say here. About how lucky I was to have a mother that always made me feel beautiful. Who still does. What a glorious gift. I could offer the warnings of how hurtful words can be. How we have to choose them so wisely. How easily we can hurt others. I could speak of the need to always be searching for and recognizing beauty in ourselves and others. I could speak of forgiveness, for that is really all forgiveness is, just letting go. Maybe it all comes down to weight. Each day a decision has to be made, perhaps moment after moment in each day, deciding to be the person who lifts, or the person who brings down. Wings or weights. As one who has seen the height and depth of each side, please, please let me be the wings, let us be the wings. Let’s choose to be kind, and fly!


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The next flight awaits.

I painted a new bird this week. I love to paint birds. For me, one is completely different from the other (and I’ve painted a lot of them.)  Some might ask, “Don’t you get tired of it, painting the birds?” To this I would reply, “No, do you get tired of feeling good?”  

Because I do, feel good, when I paint them. I love how they are always looking. They were given wings, the chance to fly, and it doesn’t seem like they want to waste it. So playful in the sky. Stopping for brief moments on branches, then looking, knowing, the next flight awaits. The goal is not to finish, but to continuously become!

I’m launching a new website today. A new flight. It’s exciting! I feel perched, but ready to fly again. What a glorious feeling to become. To know my story isn’t finished yet. 

If you are reading this, your story is just beginning as well. Today is the branch that will launch you into the sky. A sky filled with beginnings — if you dare to take them. And oh, I hope you take them! Please take them! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, “One way or another, I am going to fly!” I’ll see you up there!


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The birthday gift.

It was my 7th birthday. Barb Duray was there. Wendy Schoeneck. And about 10 other girls. I remember Wendy because she gave me a set of paper dolls – Buffy and Jody paper dolls, from the television show Family Affair. We didn’t have cable television, so I had never seen the show. I was devastated to learn that Jody not only spelled the name wrong, but that he was the boy. I still thanked her for the present.

I remember Barb because of a game that we played. (Let me preface this by saying all of our games were made-up. We didn’t have the means to hire clowns, or play music. Cakes were homemade and so were the games. I don’t say this regretfully. No. This was beautiful. And I give thanks for it!) We kneeled on the seat of the chair. A mason jar sat on the floor. We had a sack of my mother’s clothespins. The goal was to drop as many clothespins into the jar. The girl with the most got a prize. The game was close. I was winning. Barb was right behind me. Before it was my turn again, my mom whispered in my ear – “Let her win. Let her get the prize.” She knew that I was already getting presents, and that my friend would be so happy. She was a giver. Graceful. She was lovely. I wanted to be just like her. I missed the next clothespin, and Barb won the prize, but I received a gift that has lasted to this day — the joy of giving – my mother gave me that.

It is my mother’s birthday today. Just as she taught me, I ask you to be kind to one another. Be gracious. Be giving. Celebrate. Bake the cake. Lick the bowl. Light the candles. Play the games. Create memories. These are the gifts of a lifetime!

Happy Birthday, Mom! Thank you!


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Lucky.

Most of the houses on VanDyke road had screen doors for the summer. There is a freedom in the sound of that screen door gently banging itself shut, because no matter who’s door you were racing through, who’s house you were leaving, you simply ran fearless out into the wild, the wild of a gravel road and more time than our school free minds could imagine… still, we ran, with newly tanned legs, in and out of neighbors’ houses, never looking for cars, or danger of any kind. 

It is something to grow up in a neighborhood. Not just a place where people lived near one another, but a true neighborhood, where you were part of something bigger than yourself. You were part of every home behind each swinging door. You were cared for, and watched over. You were free to roam under every sun, and gathered home each night with your mother’s call from the front stoop. To look, wander, and explore, unafraid, that made us not only rich, but the luckiest kids alive. 

They say if you see a bird looking away from itself, it is a sign of good luck because it means that bird doesn’t feel like it has to protect itself from danger. I suppose that’s what we were — young birds – flitting and flying about Van Dyke Road, never worried, free to look in any direction. 

And then one day, we all flew away, with all of our wildly different high hopes.  

What a gift we were given. These open skies over Van Dyke Road. Sometimes, even now, if the summer breeze gently blows my cares away, I look around without worry, and think, how lucky I was, to learn to fly.