Jodi Hills

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


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Tremble.

I learned a new word yesterday, and not in French, but Latin. Spolia. Spolia is now an art historical term for the recycling of architectural fragments. A fragment of an old building is taken from its original context and reused in a different context. This has happened throughout history. Usually these pieces are not taken at random. It first began perhaps to symbolize a new ruler to rulers of the past, for example in the Arch of Constantine, fragments of sculptures honoring Marcus Aurelius and Trajan were added to symbolize the equal greatness of Constantine. The first time I saw this was in Chicago at the Tribune Tower. I thought it was beautiful, but I didn’t have the word for it then.

I suppose, as humans, we do the same. I hope we are doing the same. Giving honor to the best of those that have come before us. When my Grandmother passed away, I wrote a poem for her. My way of adding a piece of her to my heart. It still holds me. These pieces of her, my mother — what a foundation! I stand strong today because of them, for them, forever with them.


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Be it ever so humble…

When I moved to France I gave up so many of my things. No, that’s not right – “gave up” sounds like a sacrifice. And it wasn’t. It was a choice. What I did really, was release a lot of my belongings, and made a choice. A choice to trade these things in exchange for experience, for feelings, for life, for love. The best choice I ever made. I will never regret it.

It’s easy to cling to items. And when those items don’t fill us up, we buy more items, different items. Items on sale. And when those items break, we search for more. But they will never fill us. Make us whole.

We are all guilty of it. Myself included. Each trip I make back to the US, I am limited by the weight of one allowed suitcase. And there is only so much I can bring, and so much I can bring back. Sometimes, it feels hard – (hard – insert laugh here) – to pass something by, not bring it with me, or bring it back. Just things, I tell myself. Only things.

What I want now, more than ever, is love and time. I choose love and time. I fill up my heart’s valise, no limits there, and I am whole.


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Heart on my sleeve.

In my small hometown, there was a large department store, named Herberger’s. For those of you unfamiliar, you could call it a Dayton’s, Marshall Field’s, Macy’s, Dillard’s…a rose by any other name. It was the anchor store of our Viking Plaza (or Vikedale as we so lovingly called it). And by my use of the word “was,” I’m sure you can see where this is going. Funny how we didn’t. We assumed it would always be there. For shopping, of course! But more than that. For social interaction. Walking inside on cold and snowy days. Visiting. Encouraging. Living.


The first time my French husband visited Alexandria, we went out to Herberger’s with my mom. We entered near the shoe department. “Hi Ivy!” she said as she handed the shoes to her customer. Sue in the bra department waved. “Hi Ivy!” she said from women’s wear. The manager of the store stopped and said hello as we went to men’s wear. This was a normal day for us. We, my mom and I had grown up together at Herberger’s. Survived lonely Sunday afternoons there. Celebrated grand events there. Tried on clothes after clothes. Complimented each other. Gained our confidence. Grew our audience. Came to life. So it wasn’t strange to me when Claudia at the makeup counter asked my mom if she was feeling dizzy because she knew my mother – knew her history – her health. But my husband had this strange look on his face. “What?” I asked him. Does everyone know your mother here? “Sure,” I smiled. “It’s Herberger’s. She’s probably like the mayor.”


When Herberger’s closed several years ago. It was a shock. We weren’t prepared to say goodbye, but then, I suppose, no one ever is. We had survived so many goodbyes before, and we would survive this one as well.


I was playing “fashion show” yesterday, in our home in France. I try on things in my closet. Put together a capsule wardrobe like I’m a star on Youtube…look in the bedroom mirror, then the bathroom, then the downstairs full length mirror that gets the best lighting… then into the salon to show my husband. When I first introduced him to the playing fashion show, I’m not sure he really understood the game, or that we were even playing… “You have to say lots of nice things about me…” “A little more…” He’s become an excellent player.


With each outfit change I am shouting with glee over the changing room walls, over the music playing on the speakers above us, racing my mother to the best lit mirror (of course she had that figured out!). We weren’t wrong when we assumed that it would always be with us. It is! Herberger’s is alive and well in the south of France.


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Of being carried.

I was watching something on netflix. I don’t even remember the movie. But an image I’ve seen a million times, on the screen, in real life, a young child being carried. And it struck me so – I wish I could remember that – that feeling of being lifted. Of being carried. Of being relaxed. Feet dangling. At ease. Held up. I have no memory of this. I’m not sure most people do.

I went to bed after the movie. Still a bit anxious from the news of the day. He knew that. I explained thoughts in fragments. Puzzles of emotions. He has a way of brushing the tear, not from my eye, no, he lets it fall to the bottom of my chin, and then catches it. Telling me it’s ok to feel. Allowing me to feel. And he’ll be there. He is there. And I know it. I release the air that worry tries to trap in my lungs, and I breathe. And breathe again. And I sleep. Feet dangling. I do remember.


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The waves are calling.

Things have always been more clear for me on paper. It starts in my brain. Works its way through my heart. Travels down my arm. Through the pencil. Onto the paper. Now, I’ve always said I’m not one to edit. Once the words are on the paper, I try to keep them as pure as they arrived. I suppose one could say they’ve been filtered as they make this journey from my head to the paper, and that’s probably true. My brain has an idea, so many creative ideas, but I believe it is my heart that keeps them honest, real. And by the time it scratches through the lead of the pencil, (or the keys of the computer) I can trust that these are the words I believe. All the questions and concerns and worries that my poor brain can create, invent, inflate…when I can get to the core of them, calmly work through them, release them onto the paper, they are never the gale force winds that were whipping around my brain, but a calm and peaceful breeze of truth, that brushes across my face.

I used to love standing on the shore of Lake Michigan on a summer Chicago day. As the waves rolled in, I would tell them my thoughts and concerns, imagining they gathered them in, reversed and took them back out to the open water. And I was lighter. I was free. I was saved. This for me, is how I write. Releasing the thoughts. Letting them go. Standing on the shore. Free.

Each morning, I ask the words to take me where I only feel the wind upon my face. And with any luck, I reach out my hand, and take you with me.


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Love her.

Some things you don’t learn in school. It was a Sunday afternoon. The snow was falling. And falling. I was supposed to go back to school. I had come home for the weekend to see my mother. I was still naive enough to think I could drive in any weather. I packed up my things. My books. My clothes. And the snow kept falling.

Everything said it was not fit for driving. All one had to do was look out the garden window of my mother’s apartment. The snow kept rising. Shortening the view until it was simply white. Still not sure of the severity, still clinging to my indestructible naivety.

I turned on the television to see if there was news that supported my theory that I could make the drive. Nothing. They didn’t even bother to send the reporters out into the snow, they simply scrolled on the bottom of the screen that everything was closed. And still… It’s hard to let go of an idea in your head. This idea that I had to prove something. Be something. Be more. Become worthy, I suppose. And I didn’t want to be told otherwise.

Nobody really likes to be told what to do. I sat in front of the tv, arms folded across my chest, like the snow cared if I didn’t like it. The Sunday afternoon movie began. Camelot. Camelot? The singing was nice. I relaxed a little. I stopped looking out the window. “I wonder what the King is Doing tonight?” They asked in song. Sang “The simple joys of maiden hood.” I relaxed into a pillow and blanket. They kept singing. “The lusty month of may.” And then, “How to Handle a woman.” Aaah, yes. I wondered too. The answer was so simple, “just love her, simply love her.” My heart sighed into a smile. With all my crazy ideas. My wild ideas. My naive ideas…. I still believed in love.

It would not come, this love, not by willing it, watching out closing windows, but taking a deep breath and allowing it to happen. Not forcing it. But with the patience of a snowy Sunday afternoon, it would come. Even in this love, I have to admit my heart and my brain still get a little anxious, perhaps even a little snow blind. “I can do it! Right now. This and this! And why can’t I?” I want to! Right this very minute.” (I suppose I still have those wandering thoughts, needing to prove I’m worthy.) And then he scrolls the words across my heart. “Just relax.” He loves me. Even in all my wild flutters. (I’m still learning.) He loves me with all the calm of Sunday song. And I realize, as I look in the mirror, the song was right, and not just for him, but for me…I must love her — me —simply love her.


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Nobody told the birds.

December 26 is not the day we celebrate, but nobody told the birds. I’m sitting by my morning window, swarmed in song. I’ve never heard the birds so joyful. You can almost see the notes dancing in the trees under this cloudy Sunday morning sky. It truly is spectacular. What a beautiful thing to wake up to! A gift. Nothing to unwrap. Nothing to return. Everything to enjoy!

I guess every day is a gift. If the birds can see it, I, we, should be able to see it too. And I want to. Every day. I don’t want to waste one. I don’t want to wait for the calendar to tell me it is special. Each one is special. So on this 26th, this Sunday, this cloudy, uneventful day, I am going to celebrate this life. And I am going to sing!!!


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No measuring cups.


It wasn’t often that I saw my Grandma Elsie without an apron covered in flour, that I saw the kitchen sink empty, her cupboards clear… You entered her house through the always unlocked door, directly through her kitchen. First impressions. It was always full. She was permanently baking and cooking, but rarely cleaning. This is not an insult. I have always admired her ability to let things roll. She didn’t seem overly concerned about the little things. She made it all look so easy. We asked her once about leaving the door unlocked, wasn’t she worried that someone could just walk in, in the middle of the night. “Well, maybe they’ll clean something…” was her response.


They say she never measured anything while cooking. I’m not certain it’s true, but it would be within her character. I started baking when I moved to France. I have no American measuring cups, and only a single French one. There is a lot of guessing. Not to mention the translating of recipes. The swapping out of ingredients (Chocolate bars are in the “exotic” aisle of the grocery store.) I’m not sure why I started. I don’t remember the first thing I baked. I’m going to guess cookies. I suppose for the first time in my life, I wasn’t afraid to do it. There was no one who would judge me, or make fun of me. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. For the first time in my life I was secure that my love would not be measured by kitchen triumphs or failures. I was simply loved. It’s amazing what that confidence can do for you.


I think of my Grandma now as I bake for Christmas. I think of how she must have felt loved. So loved that she could dance in her kitchen, covered in flour, with the sink full of dishes. And I am so happy that she had that. That confidence. That love.


Now with all those children, all those years, all that living, of course she must have had her share of heartache. Of concern. I suppose, even worry. But she showed none of it. Not with her hands. With those hands, covered in flour, covered in dust, she held. She gave. She touched.


Love is never measured.


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Dewey Decimal.

I suppose some might say that it has always been my nature to “worry.” Wednesday evenings before library day at Washington Elementary, I would wonder, will they give us enough time, will I find the book I want? And I hate to call it “worry,” really, it’s just that it all meant so much to me. The books, the library, the stories, I valued them. I loved them. So I took the time, mapped out the library on paper and in my head. Learned the sections of my favorite series. Studied the Dewey Decimal System. Made friends with the card catalog, not to mention the librarian. So yes, I thought about it a lot – but it wasn’t the agony of worry, it was love. And I will never regret giving them my time. My thoughts. My concern. Loving them with all of my heart.


Today, there are always concerns, and bigger ones at that. Family. Health. Life. World. But I would like to think I’m not just “worried.” Worry itself doesn’t seem to inspire much action. Concern, feelings, love, now that helps me. Makes me aware of the problems, the issues, and gives me the incentive to do something. Worrying, simply worrying about tomorrow, not only doesn’t help my tomorrow, but it loses my today. It’s not always easy. And I am certainly not perfect. Oh, that “worry” can sneak its way in, but when it does, I look for my tools. I Dewey Decimal it to the ground, and reach once again for the love. It, love, has always been the answer. Still, and again.


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From my tiny cup.

When I was a child, I thought coffee was chunky. I remember my Grandma’s cup, when she reached the bottom, it was filled with the crumbs of every grandchild that pleaded, please can I just dunk my cookie, just once. And my mother’s cup, thanks to me, was the same. I know she didn’t like it, but for some strange and glorious reason, she loved me more.

I’ll say it again. It’s the little things, one might even say the crumbs, but oh they matter! Always have, always will.

People often tell me that they read my posts with their morning coffee. What a gift! To share with you this time. To gather in. Sit beside you at your table.

Every day, the world throws something at us. We are asked to survive the unsurvivable. Believe in the unbelievable. It is in these moments that I remember, I was not only loved, I was loved more. Taking a sip from my cup, I have everything, and so I begin.