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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Out of the deep end.

I picked up the brush yesterday. As the paper turned from cream to blue, the clock turned back and I was five again. In my bedroom. With each stroke teaching myself how to feel. How to laugh. How to cry. How to wrap myself in a comforting blue sky. Lift myself in the most joyous of yellows. I wanted to feel it all. And that was the real gift, I suppose. Knowing that I had to feel it all in order to see.

When I first moved to France, the unknown language was like a weight in the water. But I had been through this before. Learning to swim at the Central School pool, we were tested in the deep end. We had to tread water for three minutes. Head and hands above the water. Feet kicking furiously below. “Lengthen your neck,” our teacher encouraged, “Lift your chin,” she urged from the side of the pool, “You can do this… Look up!” And it worked. As I stretched my neck and head toward the sky, I could feel it — I was getting lighter, higher…I wasn’t just learning to swim, I was learning to fly.

Here in France, in this sea of different, this Mediterranean of all that was new, I decided to look up. And I saw them. Maybe for the first time. The birds. Once again, I had to feel it all in order to see.

I hadn’t painted birds until I moved here. As my feet kicked furiously beneath me, my hands calmed, and I began painting them. So light. So up. So beautiful, the gifts that I, we, have been given.

As the bird comes to life on my paper, she sings her song of yellow , “You can do this…you just have to look up!”


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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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Stroke by stroke.

I learned to swim in the middle of winter. In Minnesota.

Every Saturday morning, our moms would drive us to the Central School Pool. In the locker room we unbundled from hats and mittens and coats and boots, into the unthinkable winter wear — swimsuits. We raced past the “walk” signs, up the stairs, and stood beside the blue. Bare armed. Bare legged. Looking out the large windows at the patient snow.

We didn’t know words like ironic, or unusual. Or even patience. We only came to swim in the heated pool of winter. And we did learn. All at our own pace. Some more afraid than others. But all eager to be able to eventually protect ourselves. Save ourselves. And then just swim. To get from one side to the other.

It takes patience to paint. If you have an idea in your head, the eagerness to get to that image is palpable. But it has its own timing. It will arrive slowly. Stroke by stroke. Sometimes I remember to take photos, to remind myself of the process. To remind myself I will get through. And it will be beautiful.

This is a new season for patience. My heart feels bare. Stuck out in the winter in my summer clothes. But I know everything has its own timing. Each day a gift, a lesson, something beautiful, stroke by stroke.


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Give it a name.

I called it “the plant.” I’ve always believed if it’s special, you give it a name. Sure, it did house my car at night, but in the daytime, it was pure magic. I hung canvas on the walls and created a world, created a life. Lit by the glorious sun, and Christmas lights in the back, this was my sanctuary. It was always open — for creativity, for anyone to visit. And all who did visit the plant, were free to fling a brush of paint — to fling a brush in celebration, in frustration, whatever was needed. Because, like the song says, “Love made sweet and sad the same.” And that’s what we did, you see, made it all into the beauty of living, right there, by name, painted on the walls of my garage, on the walls of my heart.

If we are open, we will get to feel it all — everything between sweet and sad. We have to feel it all. And oh, how it matters – this beauty of living color — all of whom are let inside. In my heart, love will always have a name.


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Joie de vivre.

Someone was assigned to pull down the 8′ black shades and the white screen at the front of the class. Another student was assigned to wheel in the projector. The rest of us squirmed in our seats with hearts beating like gerbils on a wheel. Movie day at Washington Elementary was like no other. Nearly two hours of no memorizing. No reciting. No confusion. No pressure.

The sound of the wheel clicking into place. Then the film snaking into position. The projection light coming cn. It was almost unbearable. We had watched the same film for years. First grade. Second grade. Again in 3rd, 4th and 5th. It didn’t matter. It was the memory of pure and uncomplicated joy.

It has been decades since I sat at those desks. But I can feel it as though it were yesterday. Today, memories of my mother turn round and round on my heart’s movie reel. This joy is almost unbearable, but I know I will carry it with me, forever — for that’s what she was, pure and uncomplicated joy.


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Bagels and napkins.

She called me at work. It was my first real job out of college. We didn’t really celebrate the holidays then. My mother didn’t like to cook. So it was a big surprise when she said she was going to defrost the turkey she found in the freezer. I said I would come home and we would celebrate Thanksgiving. A couple hours later she called and said it turned out to be just a bag of ice. “Do you remember buying a turkey?” I asked. She said, “I don’t remember buying the bag of ice.”

We laughed. Hard! We knew what a gift this was! She drove to Minneapolis instead. We had wine and toasted bagels and made our plans for the next day of shopping. I will be forever grateful for these times! Our only traditions were love and joy!!!

My friend sent me home with napkins of orange and yellow – adorned with the word “thankful.” I was tired yesterday, and no one gets Thursday off here – of course Thanksgiving is an American holiday — so it was just Dominique and I. We could have eaten left-overs, but I had those napkins. I had that friend. I had those memories. So I made some chicken and mushroom risotto. Poured the wine. Lit the candles, and we gave thanks in our own special way, with love and joy. My mother had taught me just how to do it.

Let me always see the gift.


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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.