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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Summer of ‘63

I was given a small photo of three boys fishing at the lake. He was commissioning me to create a large painting of the image. First I made the lake. The shoreline. The dock. Then each brother, in order of their age. Just as they would have entered this life, they appeared on the canvas. I don’t paint anything I can’t feel, but honestly, I wasn’t expecting to feel this much. Perhaps it was so emotional because this is where I, too, began. Near this lake. In this small town. Perhaps because I knew what their futures held. Part of me wanted to tell each one what was to come…but that wouldn’t be right, even if possible. For they, all three were safe in this moment. Pure. And this is where I would capture them. Forever innocent, in the summer sun of 1963. Full of hope.


I didn’t notice until I was finished the date on the side of the photograph – it was January, 1964. Clearly this picture wasn’t taken in January in Minnesota. But I imagine the photographer, the boys’ mother or father, must have been waiting to finish the roll of film. We used film back then. And if you bought a roll, of say 36, then you waited patiently, or not patiently, until you finished the roll, and then brought it to the film corner in the drug store to be developed. I imagine they finished the roll at Christmas time, and then had it developed.


Maybe time moved slower then. Summers lasted longer. Still, they, we, couldn’t stop it. Probably the best we can do is capture the moments. On film. On canvas. In our hearts. And feel everything. Feel the heat of the sun. The possibility rolling in with each gentle wave. The time when the common goals of youth kept us together. Easily. Slowly.


Today, these three young boys are fishing together in the south of France. Hopeful, excited, ready to go home.


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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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To flutter.

I woke up to another 5-star review on my Etsy page. She said my painting “was her very favorite in her whole house!” Just a few words strung together, but they fit perfectly into my heart and filled it!
It’s amazing what we can do for each other. Just the tiniest bits of kindness. Humanity. It’s so contagious. I give you a piece of my heart. You pass it along to someone else. It flutters and flies and fills the air.


Some will call it the butterfly effect — how the simple flapping wings of butterflies in India can change the weather in Iowa. I am not a scientist, but I have seen this play out with humans. I have seen the flapping of kindness change the behavior of many. I have seen the soaring effects, the light and airy beauty of it all. And I want to be a part of it. A part of the beauty. Of the changes.


Today, can we let go of all the things that are weighing us down? The weapons of bigotry, and hate. Fear and anger. Can we just let them go and fly? Oh, how I hope so! Let’s fill the sky. We can be the change.
I’ll see you up there!


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Unstoppable.

During our latest trip to the US, I got to see one of my dearest friends. When we pulled into the parking lot of her building, I started to get emotional. I opened the door and I could see she was crying. That laughing cry that’s unstoppable. We danced around each other, so overcome with emotion we didn’t know where to land.
It had been a while for my eyes, but in my heart, no time had passed at all. We could finish each other’s sentences and jokes. We had shared everything. Our time. Our experiences. Our stories. Our fears. Our laughter. Our gum. Nothing had changed. Even as I’m typing this, my heart swells. She has seen me on my best days, and on my worst, and has befriended me unconditionally. And I will forever do the same for her.


You might think we are exactly the same. But other than our name, we really share nothing in common. We have lived, and continue to live completely different lives. We have different interests. Live in different countries. But for some glorious reason, she knows the language of my heart, and I hers.


I will never downplay the importance of family. But how can I stress the true importance of real, real and true friendship? I want to invent a new word. Because friend isn’t enough. Sister isn’t enough. So for now I will just say, she is my Jody Skinner. My one and true Jody Skinner.


I hope you all have one. This forever friend. This person that can crumple you in a fit of laughter. This person that holds so close to your heart, no matter the time. No matter the distance. Today, I encourage you to pick up the phone. Write a letter. Send an email. Do something. Hold them close. Together, you will be unstoppable.


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Perfection knows no time constraints.

When I focus only on my own tiny heart, I can feel badly that she doesn’t remember me, my mother-in-law. It’s only natural, I suppose. And when I say the words out loud, it is only natural. There is no malice. Only nature. She has done her job. For 96 years. She has cared and nurtured and lived. When I arrived she welcomed me. Learned about me. Clapped for my paintings. Sometimes more than once. Knew me. And that was perfect. In its time. It is now my turn to welcome her, again, for the first time. Welcome this period in her life, not with anger (How could you forget?), not with sadness (Why don’t you remember?) but with grace (I’m happy to see you.)


I have climbed the Sainte Victoire. The mountain doesn’t remember me, but oh, how I remember each step. Each stumble coming down. It is my job, my joy to remember. I remember kissing at the Eiffel Tower. Wandering the relics of Rome. The feel of the Mediterranean washing over me. I remember my grandfather’s overalls. My grandmother’s hands. It is my job to remember. To share the stories. Pass them on. Give them life. Until one, day, in one language or another, someone might carry them for me. Carry each kiss and stumble. Until they can only pass them on again.


And it will all be as it should. Filled with grace, this perfectly imperfect gift of time.


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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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With strings attached.


I wasn’t sure if I’d remember. It’s been over a month since I made bread. But this morning my hands pulled out the flour, and yeast and sugar and oil. Sprinkled in a little salt without my having to think. They knew. They have done it a countless times before and needed no direction.


And so it is with seeing old friends. I saw her at Starbuck’s and our smiles challenged each other for size. Had it been minutes or more than a year, my heart didn’t know, didn’t care, it loved with no need for direction. We talked about nothing and everything. She gave me two dish cloths. Knit by her own hands. Folded. Tied with the tiniest of bows. Strings that attach directly to my heart.


Friendship doesn’t need conditions, but it does need strings. Strings that attach.


While we were at my mom’s, a dear friend of hers brought over a batch of cookies – made with her own hands. They were delicious, but more than that. They were time and care and concern and friendship. Strings that attached.


I have always trusted the makers. Those who use their hands and hearts to show you their love. And so I make the bread, and the words and the paintings to show you mine. I reach out. I reach back. Forever attached.


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Constant journey home.

I found myself at home in front of the US capitol. I didn’t expect to be so moved, but I was. Tears streamed down my face. Because I was home. And my French husband was home. And the people around me, people of every color, people speaking different languages, some laughing, some crying, all peaceful, all joyful, all were home. This is who we are. Who we have to be. Welcoming. Kind. Joyful.

Next we visited the National Gallery of Art. I stood in front of the collection of Cezanne. In front of the painting of L’Estaque. And once again I was home. I stood with my French husband, who’s mother had a house there, and we were home. Once again the tears were streaming.

What a privilege to feel at home. Perhaps it has to start in your own skin. Once you are comfortable within, I think you have the courage to seek, to reach out, to wander. Once you are comfortable within, you also have the courage to welcome those different from yourself.

So this is where we begin. Within. All on this beautiful, this constant journey home.


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You don’t have to blend to belong

Last night I sat at the table with my French husband and a portion of our family. The table gathered in two nephews, one who is married to a German girl. They speak to their son in both French and German, but to each other in English. The other nephew at the table, married to a South Korean girl. They speak to their son in each of their languages, and to each other in English. Giddy with the scent of youth that danced around the table, was my sister-in-law’s mother, who only speaks French, but said (in French) that she loves to listen to people speaking in English, even though she doesn’t know what they are saying. Also at the table, a cousin who loves only board games. A niece with her friend who is studying dentistry in Spain, both girls wanting to help the environment, but not willing to give up essentials like flying on an airplane to buy leather shoes. And finishing out the table, cousins whose only son makes French pastries in California. We all sat around the table eating Italian pizza.

Somehow we fit. We find a connection. We push tables together, and pull up chairs. Open our hearts and minds, and fill our glasses. We are not the same. We certainly don’t blend, but we belong. We have a place at the table.