Jodi Hills

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


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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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The B side.

We had only a couple of 45s. If you don’t know what a 45 is, it was a small record album that played two songs, the hit on the A side and the less popular (or completely unknown) song on the B side. Both were by Frank Sinatra. We played them on a giant piece of furniture with a turntable. I suppose it was funny to have two small records and this giant stereo console, but that’s what we had. We bought the 45s at Carlson’s music center for 99 cents each, and my mother got the stereo console in the divorce in exchange for the waffle iron. 

On dark Sunday afternoons, we laid on the floor, 4 feet apart, each with a head by a speaker. We played them over and over. I didn’t want to play the B sides. It seemed like that’s what we were living. “One day,” she said as we waited out the Sunday, “days will be full, and faster than we can imagine. And life will be great!” Now, as I try to capture the blur that passed, the blur of laughter and tears, the music of life, I know she was so right. 

Today, in France, a small number of the old men still wear hats. How elegant, I think. How very Frank. They hold a bit of time, and carry it, slowly, softly. And I breathe in the songs of Sunday, giving thanks for every B side, every mother’s promise, every hope carried in and out of tune, 45 rotations per minute.


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A place for us.

Before my mother became the voice of Independant School District #206, she worked at 3M. I was pretty young. I have no idea what she did. She brought me to the office one day after school. It was huge. I saw rows of desks. Some men in polyester suits and wide ties. Women with phones attached to their heads. One man with hair greased smooth, bent down, reached out his hand and tossled my hair. I didn’t like it. I didn’t know him. His smile was too toothy. “We invented this here,” he proudly held out the famous yellow sticky note pad. “You can write all your notes on it,” he said, still grinning. So far, I had nothing to keep track of, nothing but the hem of my mother’s skirt.

I had to go to the bathroom. We walked through the kitchen. I could smell the coffee in continuous brew. I imagined it took a lot of coffee to keep those faces in constant grin. A woman was bending near a giant machine. It had a glass cover, displaying food items. She pulled a long silver handle, and the tin can made a thud. I’m not sure I could read yet, but I saw the picture on the can. It was spaghetti. Spaghetti in a can. Now this was something! It was ready? Immediately? I couldn’t believe my eyes! What an invention!

I begged and pleaded. I had to have a can of spaghetti. I must. It’s right there! Please! Please! I wasn’t one to really beg for things. And she was at work. No need for a scene. “But you’re not going to like it,” she said. I disagreed. Oh yes, I would love it! I returned from the bathroom to find my mother with a can at a table. I beamed. I beamed as I flipped the top open. I beamed as I inserted the plastic spoon. And then I stopped beaming. It was horrible. I didn’t want her to have to come here, every day. I didn’t know what “better for her” was, but I know I wanted it.

She worked at the clinic for a short time after this. And then the dream job — Alexandria Public Schools. Some kids would always ask me, “You like having your mother at the school? Right there with you???” And I did. I really did. I was proud of her. And with all due respect to Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, I was so happy that she found her place – her place to shine. And each time I walked past the large plate windows of the Superintendent’s office, on my way to gym, or band or choir, she would wave and smile. I waved back, and yes, I beamed! We joyfully kept “track of each other.” Always have. Always will.


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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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Produce

I have professed my love for libraries, over and over. The Washington School Library. The Alexandria Public Library. One small room. One small building. Each opened a world to me that will never close. I can smell the wood that housed the paper. The slight hint of sweet mildew, like an open window.

The truth is, this was not my first impression of books. My first collection of words on pages — words mixed with colorful art – these books held the smell of fresh produce. It was at Olson’s Supermarket. My mother hoisted me into the shopping cart. The silver denting the back of my thighs. Legs dangling. Her purse beside me.

Just after the cart corral was a long display of Golden Books. I can feel my arms reaching. They were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She placed one in my chubby hand and I was changed. Words on paper. My arms will be forever reaching.

I can hear her voice reading each page. Night after night. Year after year. And then I started to hear my own. How do you thank someone for giving you the world? I suppose the only way I know is to use the same words I was given. Again and again.

I was speaking to the young woman who is currently working on my new website. Not a small task. She has to handle each piece of art, each word. She told me yesterday, because she is so immersed in all of the work, “I feel like I know you.” My heart is still smiling. My arms are still reaching. We are in different countries. From different generations, and my paintings of the apples remind her of her mother’s kitchen. Once again, the sweet smell of produce… My world opens, and I give thanks with the words that first saved me.


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My way.

They said I was “painfully shy” – my grade school teachers. But I wasn’t hiding. I was listening. There was a voice inside that I needed to hear. It was whispering, but I knew it was important. And I couldn’t hear it in the chaos — the running and screaming of youth. So yes, I was quiet. But none of it was painful, not for me.

We all learn and grow in our own ways. The only “right way” is the one you choose for yourself. 

I grew into my voice. My life. My way. I hope I still am, growing. Listening. Watching. And as Frank Sinatra sang at our breakfast table this morning, “not in a shy way…”  “Oh no, no not me,” I AM doing it my way. We smiled and listened, and ate the bread I made with my own hands.

The only thing I really fear is wasting time. And maybe the only way we can waste our time is by trying to live someone else’s life. Trying to live in the chaos of other standards. 

I can feel it when I’m “off.” I’m pretty sure we all can. And it’s usually when the voices of others try to take over the voice that lives within me. But I have found the ways to make it stronger, louder, more clear — with words and paint, and homemade bread. With breakfast conversation and music and love. With the smell of cut wood and grass stained shoes. With an unchartered path, and a hand to hold. This is the song that I’m living. The song that has always lived within. My way.


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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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Refer a friend.


There is a concept on the internet market called “refer a friend.” If you refer a new customer (we’ll call them a friend) to a website you have used, this “friend” will get a free gift or discount, and you in turn will get a free gift or discount. I can honestly say that I’ve never used it. Maybe I’ve never been that sure about a product.


It got me thinking though, in real life, it’s a pretty good concept. I have both felt and seen what the power of friendship can do. My mother has a friend, a dear friend, that has been extraordinary. She, even in her own difficult times, has been able to offer my mom a care that only a true friend can. And because of her, my mother has more to give. Together they create a comfort and a joy — (just like the song says, I suppose). Free gifts exchanged daily.


Go ahead and buy whatever you want. That’s up to you. I will only offer this small bit of advice. Find a friend like this. Be a friend like this. Giving. Open. Freely exchanging. Because it is so true, you always get more than you give, and they in turn will have more to give – and the circle of love continues. Of this I am very sure!

(This post is dedicated to Sara. Standing strong with her in this difficult time.)


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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.


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Pillowing.

“Your heart pillows to mine, and I am home.” It is a simple sentence. One I wrote for my book, “Home.” I also made it into a picture that hangs in our upstairs hallway. To take a noun – pillow – make it a verb, and everyone still knows exactly what it means, this is a thrill!


I have always loved words. I grew up with them. They are a living force in my life. An exchange of goods – as my mother read to me before bed. An exchange of goods, as I read to her my blog each day.


This lifeforce – these words – how do I give thanks for them? As the lyrics say in the song “To Sir with Love,” — “How do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?” For that’s what these words have done. They have raised me from a child. From my first visit to the library at Washington Elementary. To today, as I arrange them together, hopefully in a new way, on this page, eagerly trying to lift, to inspire, to connect. So to thank them, in my most humble way, I can only use them to the best of my ability. Use them for good. (Because make no mistake, they are tools – these words – and just as easily as they can build, they can also destroy). I pray that I, we, use them well. Share them with kindness, with as much love as they were first shared with me, by a woman, who I would grow to resemble in looks, who I long to resemble in heart. She laid them so gently in my bed, these words, so softly, so comforting, one might even say she pillowed them.
Don’t spare your words. Share them. Mean them. Thoughtfully, gently, use them well.