Jodi Hills

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


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The path.

I guess it’s the whole “if a tree falls in the forest…” thing, but I was thinking, does anything really happen if it’s not shared?

I began writing and painting at 5 years old. I would go into my room, and come out and present it to my mother — each chubby hand gripping the sides of the paper — as if I were offering the precious cargo of my heart, and I suppose I was. Because that’s the way she treated it, the way she treated me. And then it became real. Whatever I made was validated, and in a way, I became real too. No gift has stayed with me as long as this.

We drove to the Alps yesterday to see friends. They do not live in a palace, but for me, it seemed as such — because he built most of his home with his hands. And he was proud of it. And it was real. There was a pile of wood next to his garage, and for me, that seemed like a pile of gold. (Wood is scarce and expensive here, and I need it to stretch canvases and make frames.) He said I could take whatever I wanted. And I did. We filled the car with wood and possibility and I’m still smiling.

On the road I took a video of the mountains and countryside. I sent it to my mom. She said she felt like she was with us in the car, and of course she was.

I called my friend Sheila when we got home. I showed her the bag of treasures we purchased at the L’Occitane factory, (half way stop on the trip). I showed her the haul, and she gushed as only a true friend can, and when I lit the first candle and applied the hand cream, it was all real, so very real.

I write each day, still with the chubby little hands of youth, and offer my heart. Life is so much better when it is shared.


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How it should be.

It was at the State Theatre in Minneapolis that I first heard the Indigo Girls. Dayton’s used to put on an extreme fashion show each year for charity. Oh, just saying Dayton’s does something to my heart.) The theatre was dark and suddenly they blasted the intro for Fugitive by the Indigo girls, and the first model stepped out. It was a mixture of clothes and music, and city and night, art and diversity, and they sang, “Remember this as how it should be.” Oh, how I wanted to remember. 

My mother and I loved Dayton’s. Saturday mornings. Always before lunch. Trying on clothes at our thinnest. No need for food. We were fueled. Hands gently touching racks. Filling dressing rooms. Mirrors admired. Compliments given. Hearts full. Then with hands bagged it was off to lunch. To sip at the wine, and pull out each item, tell the story, live it with laughter and praise, and before I knew the words to the song I thought, “Remember this as how it should be.”

I was mowing the lawn yesterday. Listening to a podcast. They were interviewing the Indigo Girls. I couldn’t hear every word over the hum of the motor, but my heart… I can’t tell you what the models were wearing that beautiful evening, but I can recreate the feeling of hope and desire and pure excitement for a life recognized. I don’t recall every garment tried on or purchased with my mother, but as I sit here in my new Saturday morning, my heart is filled with laughter and praise. 

I suppose that’s the way it is for everything. And that’s how it should be — the experience. Today we plan to go visit a vineyard. I know I will forget the wine. Probably even the place. But the time…my heart is already singing.


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Time for an upgrade.

I wasn’t having the best day the other day. I was worried about something that seems too ridiculous to mention now. But I had another task to complete. I was working on the “about me” page for my website upgrade. I had a few photos in mind that I wanted to put with the story. As you might imagine, I have tons of photos on my computer – art, travel, family… I started searching. At first it seemed laborful. So many photos. Then I started really looking at them. I started remembering. Enjoying. Giving thanks. What an adventure! And I felt a little embarrassed that I was squandering my day with worry. I looked at everything that was, and I couldn’t wait to see what could be!!!!  

A lot of you say that what I write is such a good reminder for you. I’m reminding myself along the way. We all have to do the work. And as laborful as it seems sometimes, it’s so worth it. 

You’ll have to wait to see my “about me” page. It’s coming soon. But I encourage you, from time to time, make it a task for yourself — pull out the box of old photos, scroll through your computer, read your journal, listen to your heart. What you have lived through is amazing! Gather that strength and then go out and make some new memories! It’s about you, and it’s about time! Enjoy your day!


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May Day.

May Day in France is all about two things: muguet, pronounced “moo-gay” (lily of the valley in English) and Labor Day. On the 1st of May friends and family offer each other little sprigs, bouquets or whole plants of lily of the valley for good luck. The more little bell-like flowers the plant has, the better the luck.

We used to make May Day baskets in school. Gifts for our mothers. Construction paper. Scissors. Glue. Making them was not that hard. We had cut and pasted so many times before, and in the security of our desks and under the watchful eye of our teacher, we easily constructed baskets of pink and blue and green. The most difficult part came after the bell rang. Releasing us into the wild. It was a small miracle if your fragile basket of May could survive the bus ride home. 

I would cup the basket like a baby bird in one hand, and straight- arm my other to protect it.  Bus fumes. The wind through the windows. Wild boys. Sick girls. Anything could destroy my tiny little basket. With my sweaty, nervous legs stuck to the fake green leather bus seat, I guarded my mother’s gift with my whole heart. I suppose I’m still doing that. I always will.

Today we will bring flowers to Dominique’s mother. Tiny little bells of luck. Fragile symbols of hope and care. Giving this to each other, probably our most important work of all. Happy Labor day!


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She’s here!

I was at the New York library last night (in my dream). It is so rare that I have a good dream, I must tell you about it. To put it in perspective, if I don’t wake up screaming, it’s a good night. And those bad dreams, they can linger, not just through the morning, but for days. So this dream — this rare and glorious good dream — I put it to words, with hopes that it will linger.

I could smell the wood. And the paper. For me, libraries have always carried the scent of permanence and possibility. In the library was the perfect place for this dream to occur, amid the realm of all things possible. Dominique and I were donating our old books to the librarian. She was kind and grateful and wanted to visit. I told her of my love for books, and that, humbly, I too, was an author. She smiled and said she knew, and pulled out my most recent book, Pulling Nails. I beamed. She asked if I would mind signing a copy for the library. Of course! And maybe one for a fan, she asked. A fan? And then she stepped into the room — this beautiful woman — my grandma! My Grandma Elsie. And she was holding my book. (Tears of tenderness roll down my face as I type.) I was so happy to see her! Dominique look! It’s my Grandma! She held out my book and said, It’s gorgeous! (It’s gorgeous — you have no idea what those words will forever do to my heart!) And in my dream, I knew it was a dream, and I said out loud, …But she’s here! And she was. I can still feel her smiling.

I don’t know what dreams really are. I’m not sure that anyone does. The so-called experts say it means “this”, or “that”, but perhaps they are only as accurate as our local weather reporters making educated guesses. All I know for sure is that this morning the sun is shining and my heart is full — and it is as real as anything could be. I choose to call that love. Love that fills the air with the scent of permanence and possibility — and it IS gorgeous!

Good morning!


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Mon préféré

We got a new refrigerator yesterday. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that it’s the most beautiful fridge in the world. My very favorite. It is shiny and clean, and it works! Sure, it doesn’t have all the “bells and whistles” – to be honest, I’m not even certain what that would include. But I’m in love with it. The rack that holds the water bottles – how could anything be so magnificent? It’s ours. And it’s my favorite.

I hold that feeling as I climb the stairs to begin my daily routine. The first of which is to practice my French. I have found a new website that offers up random questions that you can discuss. Today’s question was “Who is your favorite author, and why?” In my office, I am surrounded by books. I love to read. I love writers. I love words. To Kill a Mockingbird sits right behind my head. It is glorious. I remember the first time I read it, and the last (which won’t be the last). Ernest Hemingway rests beneath it, reminding me “there would always be the spring.” There is Elizabeth Strout who so elegantly takes me back to Maine. Joan Didion who inspires me daily. George Saunders. Joyce Carol Oates. Virginia Woolf who challenged me. And John Kennedy Toole who made me laugh out loud by myself. I won’t go through every book and author — there are just too many. And I love them all. But the question lingers, and I think about each word of it. It isn’t who wrote your favorite book. The question is, who is your favorite author. To which I answer, it’s me. Hold on, hold on, hold on… not so fast to judge me… let me explain.

I am not the best writer. I look up to all the authors that I have mentioned and more! So many more. I envy the perfect words they choose – in the perfect order. They are magnificent. And I haven’t sold the most books. I won’t be on everyone’s best seller list. Most people won’t even know my name. No, I am not the best writer. But I will tell you this. Writing has always been my comfort, my joy. I have told you from the age of five, I began writing and drawing. No matter what I was feeling, I would go into my room and put it down on paper. Words have always saved me — from the darkest of times, and they have rejoiced with me in the brightest. They have held me. They have lifted me. And so I write. Every day. And I love it. So, yes, I am my favorite author. I would hope the same for all, with everything!!

I have to believe I am living with the best husband. That I have the best mother. That I am living my best life. (And I have the best refrigerator). Otherwise, what am I in this for??

I want you to be in love with your life. As I have said before, Do something you love. Be someone you love.

Good morning, my friends. Welcome to the day — it just might be my (your) favorite!


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Full bloom.

I know we could have purchased tulips, but they brought these to us, from Amsterdam. Native tulip bulbs. Spectacular. We dug little rows in the ground with the tiny rake and shovel from our greenhouse. Of course I was smiling, not just because of the gifted tulips, but because I had been here before, in the spring of kindness.

I was five when I saw it wrapped in the garage. Easter morning. Not chocolate, or a bunny of any kind, but a tiny set of garden tools, just my size. In the brightest of colors. A green shovel. A red hoe and a yellow rake. Colors so shiny, they were spring itself. They were bright and simple. 

Not all the days to follow would be like this. Something in my heart told me to hang on. Something in my heart told me that this is what would carry me — moments of kindness. The shiny moments of people who care, and dare to show it.

We placed the bulbs in the ground. Four to five weeks it said on the box from Holland – that’s how long it would take. I laughed to myself, knowing, in my heart, they were already in full bloom — the spring of kindness.


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Cherished.

My mom had a doll when she was a little girl. It was to be her last doll. She knew that. Time to be a big girl and stop playing, after all, there were so many real babies, her other 8 siblings. But even as children, I think we know, we can see the lines we are crossing, and it was special, she was so special, this beautiful baby doll.

One of the smiling faces pictured above was the culprit. Left it outside, up a tree, in the rain. Her poor little painted face was running down into her dress. That wasn’t the way she was supposed to go. She was beautiful, and meant to be cherished. But as I think of her, I suppose she still is, cherished, I mean. I’m still telling her story.

These two aunts, my mother’s sisters, have recently passed away. So I write the stories. The stories of little girls that still play in the rain and annoy their sisters. The stories to show how fragile life is, how precious. In hopes that the words can climb the tree and stop the rain, and hold them all close, all together.

Each line. Each day. So special. So beautiful. Cherished.


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Amtrak pace.

I came across an old journal. I was eighteen years old. Just graduated from high school. My mother and I were traveling from Minnesota to Washington State…by train. For my European audience, this might seem like nothing, a day trip on a fast train, a couple of journal entries at best. For my Americans, you know that I easily filled this book. It was not a fast train. 

We boarded the train at night, still filled with the hopeful romance of it all. I went to sleep. Deep sleep. Deep dreams. Awakened six hours later. With no curve in her lips, the romance seemingly gone, my mother said, “We’re almost to Fargo.” (That’s a two hour trip by car.)  Oof.

We started to look around. Not outside – we had seen this outside countless times. Inside. Now this was something. Those two men were sitting awfully close to each other. For a long time. Were they… I think they might be… yes, another trip to the bathroom confirmed it, yes, they were handcuffed, to each other. Transporting a prisoner. Were we in a movie? I wrote it down.

We went to the dining car. It was several away from our seats. Navigating between cars was tricky – not Indiana Jones tricky, but close.  In the rattling we saw a man, well, “ratting” a woman. Maybe it was romantic after all. Returning to our seats later, we saw him sitting with his wife and child. Not the same woman. I wrote it down.

We had stops in unsavory depots. Mace was suggested. We didn’t have any. We only had each other. And the handwritten evidence that I was compiling in my journal.

A train derailed in front of us near the grand canyon. 6 hours later, watching only the motionless front of the train and the motionless back of the train out our window, we began the chug again. 

I don’t remember if it was two days, or more, but oh, how we laughed. We found the story, wrote it down. Reread it. And laughed again. This inefficient, bumbling Amtrak gave us the greatest gift of all — time. I picked up my journal and held it in my hand. My heart rattled with joy, along with the prayers that time would actually, once again, slow to Amtrak pace.


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A berry in the window.

I’m currently reading the book, “Sorrow and Bliss,” by Meg Mason. The main character is remembering a period of time when her mother, a sculptor, would get lost in her work and not want to be disturbed. (Her mother is quite the eccentric character and a delicious read.) During these periods she would put a note on her studio for her two daughters, “Girls, before knocking, ask yourself this, is anything actually on fire?”  I’m still laughing. 

I was still a teenager when my mother started dating. She met a man, we’ll call him Roger, (because that was his name). When she (they) wanted a little alone time, she hung a decorative berry in the window of our garden apartment on Jefferson Street to alert me. It was a small strawberry, made of plaster, with a tiny string. So unassuming. So telling. If, when returning home on my ten-speed bicycle, I saw the berry in the window, I knew to keep riding. And joyfully, I did. 

I knew my mother was human when I saw her cry. Sorrow. It was good to now see her humanness for (forgive me) berry different reasons. Bliss. I can’t see a strawberry now without smiling.

I put up my painted berry today, in hopes that she can feel that girlish heart. In hopes that she will know, I will do anything for her to feel that way again. So I keep riding, round and round the block.