Jodi Hills

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


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Days of thanks.

This past Labor Day, we visited Washington, D.C. It was a warm day — just enough heat to let down your defenses and let you feel at one with nature. No difference between your body temperature and the air surrounding you. We walked freely and easily to each monument. The stairs to Lincoln were long and high, and worth each sweaty step. I couldn’t help but notice each of us wore a warm and glistening glow, from the sun sure, the labor of the steps, but mostly, I think, from the hope and promise that sat before us.


With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, it is good to remember how Lincoln transformed this holiday for us all. There is much controversy with the holiday beginnings, as there should be, I suppose, but Lincoln took the holiday and turned it into a day of thanks, for all to celebrate.
It was Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of the popular magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, who began using her columns to push for nationalizing Thanksgiving and celebrating it on the last Thursday in November. (A good woman behind every man as they say – and this time – out in front). She wrote a letter to Lincoln, stressing the urgency of making Thanksgiving “a National and fixed Union Festival” that would offer healing to a torn nation.

After receiving her letter, Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as a day when we would give thanks “as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People,” including “my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands.”


This “sojourner” wants to give thanks, every day. I understand how blessed, I am, we are, to stand in the labor, the hope that each day brings.


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This little light of mine.

We got a new vacuum cleaner. It has a very bright headlight. It was amazing, and a little bit frightening, what I could see in the corners, under furniture — see what I had been missing. The great revealer, this light. It was so satisfying to know that I was actually making a good cleaning. It felt good, and I found myself vacuuming with enthusiasm. I can’t go back now, to the old vacuum, the old way…I know too much.

I suppose it’s that way with everything. At least I would hope so. But in so many ways, I think we are failing. In the few minutes of news a day that I allow myself (my heart can’t take too much), I see, what I can only call filth. The absolute worst of us, making the same mistakes over and over. And we allow it. We shine the light on it, and still refuse to see it. We have to do better than this. We know better. Right and wrong are not that difficult to see.

Get your house in order, they say. And I guess that’s right. I will do my best in my little corner of the world. Try to make it as beautiful as I can. It was what we were taught, wasn’t it? This little light of mine? I’m gonna let it shine.


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Easy now…

When I’m painting a portrait, I like to find what I call the soft beauty. The resting face. So comfortable in their own skin. The true elegance of ease. It’s the face that a person gives you when they trust you. No tension. No tightening. Nothing awkward. Nothing to worry about. Just the welcoming softness of being.


I want to feel that softness in my own face. Oh, to trust you. What a relief. But perhaps, even more, I want to be the face that allows you to feel the same. The face, that when you look at me you think, this is a safe place, for my feelings, my fears, my joys, my dreams, my not so secret garden.


If we could do that for each other, be a safe place to fly, a safe place to land, oh, my, how beautifully gentle, how elegantly soft this world could be.


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The horse on Michigan Ave.

The Ralph Lauren (RL) restaurant in Chicago was the reason I painted this horse. We had just finished shopping a marathon on Michigan Avenue, my mom and I, and we stopped — not really choosing this restaurant for the culinary experience, but the location. Our feet agreed this was the place for a break. Our table faced the wall of photographs and paintings. All elegantly lit. Draping our hearts in mahogany. Glasses of wine refreshing and gently embellishing the glorious minutes of the day.


We were shoppers. Not big buyers. Perhaps it was the beauty of the clothing. The curated displays. The bustling sidewalks that didn’t care how we got there, but swept us up in a sea of acceptance. We were welcomed. Good enough. So we walked each street. Entered each store. Michigan Avenue didn’t know that we used to put items on lay-a-way in a small town in Minnesota. Michigan Avenue opened its doors, and we danced in and out.


We sat in the restaurant and smiled. Held up the few items we had purchased. Laughed. Praised. Clapped even. And sighed. Breathing in so deeply as to never forget the warmth of this day. The warmth of being together. The warmth of shared experience. The warmth of shared interests. The warmth that would carry us through the coldest of days.
There was a single horse on the wall. So elegant. Such grace. And so I painted that horse. It hangs in a bedroom across the sea, and takes me back to that street — that comfort — that joy — that rest — that warmth of time well spent.


Find your way to that place. It’s waiting, just for you.


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Delightful.

I picked up an old sketchbook this morning. One I was making a few years ago while traveling in the southern part of the US. We stopped in a store in Mississippi. It was filled with home goods. I was admiring some material between thumb and index finger. The clerk, with great pleasure, not knowing me, nor where I lived, said, “These tablecloths are so French, you can’t even find them in France!” Even as I type this, I’m not really sure what that means, but she said it with such pride, such exuberance, how could I not be delighted as well! Delighted enough to write it in my journal on a January 27th.


Sometimes I think we use the excuses of time, money, location, situation — excuses not to find the joy, the beauty, the magic of the moment. I have been guilty of this for sure. But years ago, I made it my intent to see things. Everything. Everywhere. Anytime. In people. Places. Things. And this intent became habit, and became a life.


I had terrible dreams last night. The kind that want to rattle you through breakfast. But I entered my French kitchen. Heated the croissants. Drank the coffee. Mixed up the bread dough. I love making bread. I love that soon the scent will waft through the halls. Soon we will eat the most delicious bread! Bread so good, so French, it takes an American girl in provence to make it! It doesn’t have to make sense — it’s just delightful!


Let go of the night — any darkness that surrounds you. Enjoy your day!!!


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There, there.

It’s easy to get too far ahead of myself. In painting. In life. I want the answer. The finished piece. The resolution. The “Veruca Salt” voice sings in my head, “I want it now!” But it doesn’t work that way. Painting. Life. Stroke by stroke. Patience.


I’ve started a commissioned painting for a lake. Blue. Well, that’s simple. Right? Done? No. Each color must be given it’s equal time. The shadows of the almost blue black, to the glistening whites of the sun’s reflection. Each needs attention. Time. To find the movement in the stillness of each color. This is the goal.


Vincent van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” I understand this – on canvas. I take the time in my sketchbook. Work at it. Color by color. Stroke by stroke. Oh, yes. Bit by bit, it all comes together. Slowly in the stillness of my sketchbook. I want this for life.


It was Mrs. Bergstrum who first taught us this. “Sound it out,” she said. But there was the whole alphabet right in front of us! All the possibilities. We wanted it all. Every word. Every book. Every library. “Slowly,” she said. And we made the sounds. Letter by letter. Into words. Each word a victory. Great things were coming together.


There is so much to want. So much I want for those I love. I want healing and grace and hope and joy. I want it all! I know this furious speed. I know the furious speed at which you are trying to get over and around. Wanting every color, every word, now! I have traveled that wind and hung on for dear life. But the dear life I found came only in the quiet slowing down. The letting go. No longer rushing to get past, but easing my way through. Color by color. Letter by letter. Sounding it out. And the peace. Smiled. Knowing it had always been there, as I whirled. Peace, sitting quietly next to joy, and hope, and OK now. There, there. Still. Great things are coming together.


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In plain sight.

We were going through some of my grandmother’s things after she passed away. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Nor my hands. There it was. Something I had made when I was in 5th grade art class. A piece of bark from a local tree. A few pink straw flowers glued inside a crevice. An angled piece of wood nailed to the back so it would stand. And oh, how it stood – for decades. It stood for family and belonging. It stood for a life recognized. Seen. Mattered. And so I return the favor now, with her picture standing next to my sewing machine. Her picture guiding me through each stitch. A life – her life – one that is seen, recognized. A life that matters. Still.

When I walk into my brother-in-laws house in Aix en provence, the first thing I see is the painting I did of three yellow apples. Even if I fumble the language. Stumble over the culture. I am seen. I belong. What a gift! Oh, how it matters to this imported heart!

The thing is, we think “Oh, they must know…” But people don’t always know, until you show them. Show them how you feel. And even if they do know – a reminder, well, that just feels good. All the time!

Here’s to living in plain site! I see you! I give thanks for you. Every day!


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10,000 lessons.

We’re crossing bigger waters today, but we always find our way to the comfort of shore. And how would I have ever dared without the waves that first rocked me? Gently. Easily. Each one saying, you know there’s more…we taught you well. Go see. And they did teach me well – these 10,000 lakes, this Minnesota. With each arm splashing, leg kicking, breath-losing, breath-taking wave – taught me when to dive, when to keep my head up. Gave me laughter. Washed me clean.

Today is a day to keep my head up. I won’t let my teachers down. Thank you, Minnesota.


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Set up to fly.

She was really too petite to be a Barbara. We called her Barbie. Barbie Smith. She was the setter on our volleyball team in high school. She was excellent in her role. She knew each player. How high they could jump. When they were ready. Quick set. High set. And when she did it perfectly, the hitter got all the credit with the perfect spike. But we knew…without her, there was none of it.


I’m not sure we value these people enough. The setters. Those that set us up for success. As school is about to begin around the globe, maybe it’s a good time to recognize those that have lifted us, lift us now.


My mom worked in the Superintendent’s office at our high school. She took all the calls. She was the first to handle the ball. She welcomed the teachers, new and old. She directed the parents, upset or confused. Kept the administrators smiling. Not only made the school run, but made it look good. The perfect setter.


And the teachers. To say I can’t thank them all would be wrong. I do thank them all. They gave my broken world structure. Gave it a play. Popped the ball in my direction and told me to jump. Jump as high as I could. And I did! I still do it. Every day. Because they set me up. Sure, they offered up the words and the skills and the rules…but they also gave me a reason to stretch my every muscle, a curiousity, a belief that I was part of the game. And I am. They “Barbied” me into a wider world. What a gift!


Today, let’s look behind the curtain. Give thanks to all those who lift us without reward or recognition. The every day heroes — I don’t say everyday because they are not ordinary — they show up every day, they lift us. They give us not just a chance at winning – but a chance to fly!


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Never flat.

“She was strong, and oh, so beautiful. And every once in a while, she would relax into the leaves that held her, trust in them, and then, well, then, she’d take your breath away.” Jodi Hills

When you paint, you start seeing more colors, everywhere. Nothing is flat. You see the layers in the mountains, the trees, the faces. The leaves on the tree aren’t green. They are green, and blue, and gray, and yellow, and white, and brown. The Sainte Victoire mountain switches from lavender to gray, white, purple and black, depending on the sun, the clouds. So it is with skin, of any color, there is really every color, in every face. And it changes, depending on the sun for sure, but also the light from within.

Since I started writing the daily blog, everything I see becomes a sentence. And that sentence becomes a paragraph, that leads to a memory, a feeling, an emotion, a story. Nothing is flat.

When I first met her, she was so strong. Intimidating really. But beautiful. She told me this was her favorite flower. It struck me as strange at first…I couldn’t imagine her softening, letting her guard down long enough to breathe it in… but she said it, in a sentence so sure, I believed her, and what a relief, to see her in this light, to see her in the soft white of the flower. She’s got a new mountain to climb. And she’s struggling. She may think that’s a weakness. I hope not. I think it may be the strongest thing I’ve ever seen her do. And she’s never been more beautiful.

Our colors, our stories, are never flat. But these daily mountains we are asked to climb, these colorful, ever-changing, steep, heart-racing, cheek flushing, knee buckling mountains, in every color, with any luck, well, they’ll just take our breath away.