Jodi Hills

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


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I’m going to need a lot of lipstick.

It’s still surprising when something I wrote almost 18 years ago can be brand new to someone. I posted a picture yesterday of my book, “Slap on a little lipstick…You’ll be fine.” Many different people said, “Wait, that’s you?” “You wrote that?” “I’ve had that magnet on my refrigerator for years!” “I have that card on my mirror.” “I didn’t know that was you!” Yes, it’s me.

My mother used to tell me that before I was even of lipstick wearing age. And I learned quickly. She had practiced this self care for years…carrying her “bootstraps” in her purse, in the shade of rose red.

I wanted to start setting up for Christmas yesterday. I knew it would be hard – this first year without my mom here – but I didn’t anticipate the depth of it. I pulled out her little stockings. So beautiful. So delicate. So innocent and full of belief. And the tears began to flow. Make-up drowning tears that washed all of the season away. But there was her face. Right there on the shelf. On the front of the book. Smiling. “Still here,” she said. Still with the same advice. “It’s never wrong to try to be happy…” “You are this day’s survivor, and a thing of beauty…”

When I was having so many surgeries as a teenager, we needed those words quite often. Coming home from the hospital, I would be tired, sad, still trying to shake the anesthesia. “I’m going to the mall…” she would say. “But wait, I don’t think I can go…” “Well, you’re going to miss out then,” she said. “But I don’t want to miss out…” “Then let’s go!” she said. “But I look terrible and I feel terrible,” I whined. “Oh, slap on a little lipstick, you’ll be fine.” she replied. Again and again. And so it was born. I did. I was. And I didn’t miss out. Because of her. She taught me that strength could be a thing of beauty.

I’m sitting next to a little baby Christmas tree this morning. Everything seems different, brand new even. But the tree is decorated. Blinking with delicate hope. And I don’t want to miss out. Everything is still beautiful. I smile, believing in mother’s simply brilliant words, “Slap on a little lipstick, you’ll be fine.”

I will.


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Fashion show.

“To be well dressed is a little like being in love.” Oleg Cassini

I found that quote. White print on turquoise paper (her favorite color). She probably cut it out of a magazine. It was paperclipped inside my mother’s journal.

And if you knew her, really knew her, you could see it. It wasn’t just fashion. It was self-care. It was a beautifully hand stitched dream. It was love.

No one took better care of her clothes. You know when you buy a white blouse, and you bring it home, it almost shines. But inevitably, it begins to dull. Never the same as the first wear. That wasn’t the case with my mom. She had the whitest blouses. Always. And they didn’t dull with the dinge of time passing. No! Hers seemed to get even whiter.

And so it was with her heart. Her love was pure. Never-ending.

I was wearing one of those white blouses the other day. (Playing “fashion show” always cheers me.) My daughter-in-law came over. Seeing her for the first time, since my mother’s passing, wearing her clothes, the tears of tenderness began to flow. I immediately bent over so the tears fell to the floor. I was not about to stain the pureness of this white blouse. I started to laugh. Who would do such a thing? Bend over… My mother. That’s who. My heart was full. Well dressed. Forever in love.

Maybe it’s a good time to tell someone….


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Hope dangles.

The chain came off my bike. For a few seconds the pedals spun furiously and I moved no where, then fell to the ground.

I was young enough that a mile from home still seemed like forever. I stepped down from the banana seat and saw my hope just dangling there. It never occurred to me that the chain would just fall off. I had ridden this route to town a million times. My mom was at work. I didn’t have any change for the payphone. I would have to get my hands dirty.

I secured the kickstand. Fumbled with my chubby fingers. It was greasy. But soon it became clear where it needed to be. Both hands black now, I navigated the pedals with my left and reached the chain with my right. Pulling. Reaching. Sweating. I wiped my brow. My forehead now blackened too. And then it clicked. Dropped into place. I looked around as if to say. “Look! I did it!” No one was there. I was still happy.

I didn’t ride straight home. It was just too thrilling to be moving again. I serpentined slowly through the streets. Gentle breezes whispered, “There, there…” Peace. Freedom. Joy.

I suppose adversity always comes with a bit of surprise, a bit of a mess. But I know I, we, have been given the tools, the strength, the will, to keep pedaling. I brush off my knees. I smile. Hope dangles beside me.


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The art of soulful living.

Sometimes when someone gives you a gift not attached to a holiday, we say, “for no reason.” But I say, for the best reason of all!

She handed me the heavy object. I knew it was a book. So I knew I would love it! I gently tore off the paper to reveal the cover – “The art of soulful living.” “I saw it,” she said, and immediately thought it was perfect for you!”  The book is gorgeous. Beautiful images. Elegant writing. But she saw me. She sees me. This is the greatest gift of all!  

A season of giving is about to begin. And it’s fun, as it should be. But it can get hectic. Racing here and there. And I don’t want to analyze it, or suck the life out of it, but just offer a small reminder — really, when it comes down to it, we all just want to be seen. We want to be balmed and healed by the moments we give to each other — the moments we take to say — for you, I’m not too busy.


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Love called her name.

I arrived in Marseille yesterday afternoon. Somehow my heart was moving my feet, without any assistance from my brain. The one-way doors to the public area were just past the luggage carousels. The people in front of me, clearly had no luggage, and started to walk through. From a distance, I could see Dominique in his red cashmere sweater (the one I gave him for his birthday). My heart ran through the “no re-entry doors” – straight to his arms. We hugged for the forever that we have promised, and then he said, “Did you get your luggage?”

There is a joke, I don’t quite remember, about “renouncing all of your material goods at the airport,” and clearly, I had done just that. We had to search two floors of the airport for security guards to get us back in. And we did. I got my luggage, but not before my heart got what it needed most.

I suppose some might think – “Well, that’s embarrassing” – but I’m thankful, thankful for a love that rules over everything. I hope on this day of thanks, and every day, we can all say the same.


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Down a gravel road.

There was a simplicity to friendship, growing up on a gravel road. An afternoon could be filled with one stone and a one mile walk to town. Out of the driveway a mere few steps, I would begin kicking a stone down the road. Small kicks at first. Just in front of me. Then maybe a little harder as confidence increased. Avoiding the ditches. Making bargains with the stone itself — if I make it to Lee’s house without losing the stone, then this will happen, or if I make it to the Lake, for sure this — or maybe even to town, then I could really choose my fate. 

On the best of these days, I would hear running footsteps behind me. A neighbor. Maybe a Norton. A Holte. But always friendly steps. And without question, they would begin helping me kick the stone down the road. They never asked where we were going, or for how long. They never asked why. Just walked beside me. 

To have that clarity is a pure gift. If you have that now, and I can joyfully say that I do, then you have more than a friend, more than even family — perhaps we need a new word for these people — these glorious humans that will just help you get your stone down the road. 

My shoes are dusty. There are no more bargains to be made. Only the journey. The beautiful journey of this gravel road. And I give thanks every day, that I, we, don’t have to make it alone.


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Hand in hand.

I wave to it every day – the Sainte Victoire montagne. Even on the days when the clouds are low, making the mountain almost disappear (which is very rare), I offer my best parade salute, because I know it hasn’t gone anywhere. It is sure, and steady. Beautiful, whether I see it or not.

When I was in the third grade, in the days when an 8 year old could walk unaccompanied through the streets of a small town, we began what we called “Wednesday school.” For those who wanted, you could take the hour or two to walk to your church for religious studies. The church we attended did not offer a class, and wasn’t in town, so I was told I could walk to First Lutheran. I had never been there before. The group of girls that knew the way took off running down the street. I had to go to the bathroom. I was sure I could catch up. But when I opened the front door of Washington Elementary, they were gone. Never was the speed of youth so prevalent. I started walking. I got to Broadway. Looked left. No one. Looked right – only Big Ole, the statue that claimed America’s birthright. I crossed the street. It’s funny how my heart began to beat faster, but my feet were moving slower. I turned left. Then maybe right. Sweating. No longer moving in one direction or the other, only spinning. I called out to no one. And that’s who answered. I bent down to grab my knees. I pretended to be tying my shoelaces, but really it was the only way I knew to give myself a hug. I breathed in the slowness and certainty of the path that got me here, and I started walking back. There was Broadway. There was Big Ole. Still there. My heart started to calm. I crossed the street and opened the big wooden doors. Walked up the terrazzo stairs to my classroom. The door was closed. Gerald Reed was sitting alone beside the door. I waved, and smiled at his familiar face. I sat down beside him. Neither one of us asked why we were there. Our hands were right beside each other on the floor. I don’t know if he took mine, or I took his, but we sat quietly, together, hand in hand, until the others returned. Acceptance, without question. We had received maybe the best lesson after all.

I don’t know what today will bring, but I wake and wave joyfully at all that is seen and unseen, because I still believe in the beauty, the goodness that rests just within reach.


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Took comfort.

“This is the new normal,” they say. If that’s the case, then for the past decade, (possibly my whole life) I have been racing through normals at record speed.

Each day I do my French lesson. Each day new scenarios arise. Like trying to learn the difference between who and what (qui and que). Sounds basic, right? Sounds simple. But the who and the what jump from sentence to sentence, so I ask for the rule? Most of the time the answer is you just have to accept it – this randomness – and memorize it. Aaaaah, accepting, like that ever comes easy…

I used to sell my work at an annual event held by The Hazelden Treatment centers. I do not happen to struggle with addiction, but as they read through my work, it was easy to see that the “what” could be anything, at any time, and the “who” certainly was all of us. I guess it all comes down to life. To living. And I take comfort in the pure randomness that surrounds me, accepting that no one escapes, knowing that it could happen to anyone, at any time…pain, happiness, confusion, even love.

They say a prayer that I’m certain most people know. I know it. But sometimes knowing it isn’t enough. I have to know it, and accept it. And as I type the word accept, I understand, it is a word of freedom, not unlike forgiveness (and I’ve struggled with that one too). Accepting, as I see it in this new light is a release, a letting go, not a giving up, or giving in, not bending over, but learning to fly. 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.

I finish my French lesson for the day. Instead of shaking my fist at this language, I am going to keep flapping my wings, taking comfort, joy, in this beautiful random of blue.


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The new math.

She started us off with the times tables. Each day Mrs. Bergstrom would hand out a new sheet. The ones and twos were easy. Then they got a little harder. Threes and fours and up the multiplication ladder. This times this. Over and over. We learned them all. We could feel ourselves growing. Taller in our wooden chairs with each number, multiplied again and again. And just as our spines straightened, she let us have it! Right between our confident hands. Division. If we hadn’t already learned it on the playground, here was proof positive that everything was divisible. 

We started off slow, but then came brackets and points. New math. Always new math. Our erasers shrank as our brains tried to grow. And with each change it became more clear — there would never be just one way to do things. 

I bought an empty frame at Emmaüs (our version of Goodwill). I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, but I knew it would be something. I looked through my completed paintings. Nothing quite fit. The standard route of painting a picture, then framing it, was not going to be possible. I had to come at it from the opposite way. I needed to paint something to fit the frame. 

It doesn’t exist anymore, this “north end” as we called it. The wild untouched land at the end of Van Dyke Road. I have no photographs, but for the ones in my heart’s memory — this strange mix of fear and possibility. I tiptoed down the gravel road in trepid tennis shoes. Everything was divisible, and when I did, divide fear with possibility, I always came up with this, an adventure, a life. 

I painted my north end. A combination of Minnesota and France. And it fit beautifully into my frame. Into my life. This times this. This divided by that – I am, and always will be, whole.


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Always with you.

I’m currently reading the third book in the Beartown series by Fredrick Backman — The Winners. All are set in Sweden, but easily could be any town, could be my town. Perched against my Alexandria Girls Hockey t-shirt (the one I bought this trip at Endless Treasures for $3.00) as I read, it IS my hometown.

Their collective identity is based upon the local hockey club. Some fit in. Some try to fit in. Others don’t fit in at all. All with their own struggles – trying to stay in, trying to get it, trying to figure out why they don’t even see the door.

I played on several teams in school. I liked sports. The activity. But maybe most of all, I wanted to wear the red and black. Not to stand out, but to blend into the sea of the town’s colors. To be accepted. Buoyed. To be identified as part of the team.

Because every town needs to label you with something… I could hear it, we all could hear it – whispers of divorce, trouble, “broken” — and I suppose that’s the one that disturbed me the most – this broken. How dare anyone decide how your home is standing. My home wasn’t broken. It changed, of course, but it stood, and I, we, deserved to wear the colors. So I put them on for volleyball, for basketball, for track. I wore them, fragile, scared, and hopeful. Hopeful that one day, I could call this, not just my home, but my hometown, all of it.

Wearing my Cardinal t-shirt in the south of France, that day has come. Not because “they” chose, but because I did. I claim the streets, paved and graveled. The houses grand and small. The neighbors on porches, waving from car windows. All trying their best, sometimes failing, sometimes winning, bobbing up and down in lakes of red and black. I remember everything. And while the struggles were often real, the treasures are indeed endless.