Jodi Hills

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


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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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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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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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The audacity to just enjoy!

We went to Margaux’s dance recital. The young girls clearly ranged from elegant to stumbling. It was easy to tell them apart, but not if you looked at the parents and grandparents in the audience. Everyone beamed and clapped – to them, us, there was no difference, only the beauty of the dance. 

During my college summer vacations, I worked for the Recreation Department. In the mornings at the high school gym, I helped teach gymnastics to very young girls. Some were there because they had potential, and others maybe just to get a grip on a slight weight problem. Either way, I spent the summer getting kicked in the head spotting wayward aerials. Just as with dance, we held an exhibition (and I use the term loosely) at the end of the summer. Some had improved. Others still barely fit into their pink leotards, but again, everyone beamed. They were a part of something bigger than themselves. 

Children have it right. This daring to be imperfect. This courage to attempt. This audacity to just enjoy!  I don’t want to lose this. I don’t want anyone to lose this. I suppose to make this happen we have to continue to see the world with our hearts. To see others, strangers, in the same light as we do these misstepping young dancers, these fumbling gymnasts. What if we saw each other in this way?  Wouldn’t that be something to applaud! Something to make us all beam!  

Maybe today, we can all try a little harder to find our way to this light. Enjoy!


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Rabbits and bells.

I still get excited. And why not!? Everything is in bloom. There is candy on the table and kindness in the air. Eggs of many colors. Family soon to arrive. Everything feels like hope.

My first Easter in France was so different from that of my childhood. There is no Easter bunny here. They have bells. Bells deliver the candy and hide it. Not in baskets, but behind trees and throughout the garden. Bells, I thought, how ridiculous – everyone knows a rabbit… I know. I heard it too. And so I joyously rang the bell, and let myself believe. It made no difference how the magic arrived. It was there, filling the trees. 

My mother used to change the words to Peter Cottontail. As she skipped through the house with a basket of candy she sang, “Here comes Peter Cotton-fuzz, best little bunny that ever was…”  Different words. Still magic!!!

There is room in the sky for all of it. All of us. Whether you celebrate Passover, Easter, or Ramadan, or just the bloom of spring. I think we all want to believe in the best of us. The renewal of goodness. The spirit of kindness. The lightness of hope. Let the message be delivered in every way possible – even on wings!


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A pocket full.

“Tell me what you are thinking,” she would say to me. Nothing I said was crazy or stupid, or even childish, even though I was merely a child. This is one of the best gifts my mother gave me. She listened. 

I was a dreamer. She knew this. Right from the start. She didn’t have money to feed these dreams. Didn’t know the “right people.” But she had something better. She believed in them, me, and allowed them to come to life. “What is it you’re dreaming of?” she asked. I would tell her. And she grabbed the words, as if they lingered in the air, and handed them to me. “Not put it in your pocket,” she’d say. “We always need a dream in our pocket.”

When I got older, we loved to take trips to Chicago. A long weekend would be filled with shopping and walking and museums and coffee and wine and more shopping. On the drive home, we always filled our pockets with what would be the next visit. 

Before leaving for the US last month, I purchased a new sketch book. Just five euros, but something to look forward to. Priceless. In it yesterday I painted a woman’s portrait. I hope you can see it in her eyes – she has a dream in her pocket. And so do I. Always will.


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A little more hope in the air.


During our last trip to the US, I went to Oncology with my mom. Because of Covid (it seems I start way too many sentences like that), I couldn’t go into the doctor’s office with her. I said it was fine, but those pesky tears in my eyes thought differently. So I did like my grandfather always told me – focus on someone else. People filled the room, all waiting… all hoping… and as I told you in a post at that time, I took a piece of paper out of the drawer, and wrote, “If you see this, I’m wishing you a good day.” So simple. But it kept my tears at bay, and put a little more hope into the air.


This year, as we were leaving Oncology, the head receptionist, told me to wait. She slipped a note into my hand. It read, “I did see the note. It made my day better. If you see this, I’m thanking you and wishing you a good day too.”


Connections. I’m not sure there is anything better. Whether we connect here on social media, or in real life, I can feel it — I am blessed by it — I am grateful for it! So if you see this, I’m wishing you a good day!


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Never disposable.

I packed up the painting yesterday. UPS took it away in the afternoon. It is now on it’s way home. All is as it should be, still, there is a tiny hole in my soul that needs to be filled. I know what to do. I have done it time and time again. I must start a new painting. And the process will fill that little space, and with any luck, that painting will find a new home and I will begin the process again.


When I was a kid, I suppose I thought that I would learn something once, and that would be it. I would just know. I would feel something once, and I wouldn’t have to feel it again. Smiling now. It’s just not the way. I find myself learning things again and again. Patience. Trust. Love.


People will enter your life and you will love them. Sometimes they will hurt you. Sometimes you will hurt them, (“and that I think is worse” as Dorothy Parker taught us.) But, oh, that heart, oh, that resilient heart, will love again. And be loved again.


Sometimes people will lift you. Gloriously lift you. Sometimes they will leave you. And your sore heart keeps beating. You will learn trust again. You will learn patience, continuously.


I paint as instinctively as I breathe. And my heart just follows. Jumping each time into the deep end of the colors. Deeper. Deeper. Filling my lungs. Creating as deeply as I can, then rising to the surface. Breaking though. Releasing the breath that carried me. Letting it all go. Ready to do it all again. Trusting in that ever resilient, never disposable heart.

Let’s stand together in front of today’s blank canvas, and begin… again…


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A blink of blue

We decided to get lunch before taking pictures at the lake. It was a beautiful, sunny day when we went into the restaurant. We had the most delicious sushi. We stepped outside under a gray cloud. Wow – that changed quickly. Still, we went to the lake. The sky, was a mixture of grays and whites. Full of movement and rumble. It wasn’t the beauty we had seen just 45 minutes ago, but it was beautiful! We walked along the shore. The golden leaves popped out against the gray. The lake’s sky, as if to thank us for still coming out in the ever changing weather, blinked a brilliant shot of blue. It was so magnificent! It lit the air and my heart with hope.

Life moves and changes – often faster than we’d like, but we still need to show up. Find the beauty. And forever cling to even the smallest blink of blue, the promise of hope. Can you see it? Can you feel it? It’s beautiful!!


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Rose Ann and the Sainte Victoire

I’m not sure I would have even met her if my brother hadn’t married her daughter. And yet, with this one choice, not made by me, she became family. She was just always there. My brother was now TomandRenae, (not just Tom), and Renae’s mom was now RoseAnn. As familiar as that, in one instant. She included us in every holiday meal. It took awhile for our unsteady hearts to believe that we weren’t being included, but we just belonged. This is what she gave us. How can that be anything other than family?


When I say her name, an image of a nurse comes into my head. The old-fashioned kind, (I don’t mean that in a bad way) – you know the image, white uniform, white stockings, white shoes, even the paper hat. There was something solid about that uniform. Something to lean on. I guess that is RoseAnn. Something solid. Something to lean on. Sometimes that can seem unapproachable, all this strength, but when you need it, and oh, sometimes we really need it, it’s good to stand beside all of that white.
And there are surprises. Moments of vulnerability. An unexpected softness that invites you in. When the uniform is off. And we’re just people. Just gathering from the land of misfit toys for a wedding, or a thanksgiving. And it is something to believe in. Because you’ve seen every angle.


The first iconic image I passed in France was the Sainte Victoire. The mountain that Cezanne painted again and again. This giant white rock sits just outside of our home. Every day when I pass it, I say hello. Thank it for being solid. Constant. Beautiful. Even on rainy days, when the sides are dark, or when the clouds can make it almost disappear, I know it is there. That is comfort. Had I not met Dominique, I may never have known this certainty.


Small decisions join us. Bring us together. And we are stronger because of it – because of them. I wave to the Sainte Victoire this morning. I wave to RoseAnn. We are all in this together. We greet each other. We support each other. We lean on each other. It is beautiful. It is strong. It is something to believe in.