Jodi Hills

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


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At the core.

We arrived in this small city. At the visitor’s center, the attendant seemed shocked, not only that we entered, but that anyone did. It soon became clear that we were perhaps her first “customers.” She had long forgotten the facts they must have presented her with upon her hiring. She smiled, and struggled for something to say. When we asked about her city, she began each answer like an unprepared geography student when the teacher gave a pop quiz. “Where are the columns from?” I asked. “I wanna say…” and she paused, clearly searching her brain for something.

Loaded with two maps and no information, we wandered the city. It was functional. One might say even nice, but nothing stood out. Or nothing we could find. The afternoon was underwhelming and left us a bit weary. With one last attempt to save the visit, we walked the streets to find a restaurant. First restaurant, no parking. Second restaurant, no one inside – never a good sign. Third restaurant, ok,let’s give it a try. We ordered, and within a few minutes, a young couple sat down at the bar beside us. He asked politely if they could sit near us. And then thanked us. We already felt better. Polite. Young. Smiling. Maybe this was the city. We began to visit. Was that a custom beer they were drinking? Did they live here? And so it began. Jobs. Life. Travel. Art. Laughter. And here it was. Right next to us. The heart of the city. And the day was not only saved, but enjoyed, greatly.

It’s easy to find the obvious. The Eiffel Tower. The Empire State Building. Sometimes you have to look a little deeper. Go a little deeper. Attractions are everywhere. They don’t all have a brochure, but they can magical just the same. Worth the visit!


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Beating.

There is no vacation from your heart. It’s forever with you.

Even as we travel, I always take time to create something. Daily blogs. Sketches. Small paintings. It’s who I am. It’s my heart. I don’t need a break from my own beating.


I started painting and writing when I was five or six years old. My mother says I would go into my bedroom, and no matter what I was feeling, it would end up on paper. Felt. Resolved. I know I am one of the lucky ones. Not because I have something I love to do – I believe everyone has that – but because I knew what it was early. And continue to do it.


Every bird in the sky, and each of us on the ground were put here to do something. Find your reason. For yourself and for the world. The scariest part I suppose is claiming your gift. Daring to do it. Once you’re doing it, you’re doing it. No fear in flight.
You can flap and flutter all you want. Fighting it. Digging your feet in the ground. But your heart won’t rest. Each beat telling you – “Just do it already. I’m right here with you.“


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Somewhere. Here.

The principal is your pal. That’s how we learned to spell the word. It still goes through my head while typing. I loved school. I’m not sure if I was actually pals with any of my principals, but I know I had a respect for them. A little bit of a healthy fear. And that may be why I was never sent to my “pal’s” office, but I think it was more because I was so busy trying to learn. I wanted to learn everything. See everything. Because in this way, the school was more than my friend, it was my ticket. You might think I would say “ticket-out” here, but that’s not the way I saw it. Yes, we did live in our own sort of Mayberry, and I did want to see more of the world, but it wasn’t so much about getting out, but getting in – becoming a part of the rest of the world. Belonging. And that’s a big difference. I was looking for a way in.

I’m still finding it every day. I have seen things around the world that I only imagined. I’ve stood next to things that before only existed for me in books, in libraries. I have traveled through countries big and small. Yesterday, in the US, in North Carolina, we went through Andy Griffith’s hometown – the real “Mayberry.” Andy was a real pal I suppose. The authority, with a gentle touch. I know this wasn’t real, but it felt familiar. Familiar perhaps not in the sense that I actually lived it, but dreamed it. Hoped for it. Longed for it – that place that welcomes you, that lets you in, that place that doesn’t care how you got there. It turns out it was never a place at all, but an experience. A feeling. A love.

We asked the man carrying laundry on the street where the Andy Griffith museum was. He smiled. Started walking us in the direction. We thanked him. “Welcome to Mayberry!” he beamed as he said it. What a pal, I thought. We belonged.


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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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Anyone.

After seeing it, the Liberty Bell, I had to look up the actual definition of the word. The thing is, we always think we know. There are many interpretations of course, but the words that kept popping up were freedom, rule of law, and not depriving anyone else of their freedom. Oh, we get the first part so easily, freedom, freedom, freedom. Me, me, me. But do we get the second part? The anyone else’s? That’s the hard part, I suppose. That’s where the crack comes in. This is where we fail so often.

We stood in line to view it, this line of anyone else’s, this line of every color and age, this respectful line that moved slowly in the heat of the sun – the great disinfectant. We were quiet, polite, respectful. For we were all in search of the same thing – proof that this was still the case – it could be done peacefully – this search, this daily march toward liberty. This daily march together in our differences, together in our similar pursuit.

We only got a few minutes to stand before the symbol, this bell. But it rings in my heart. I pray it rings in yours. I am your anyone else, and you are mine. And we march together, search together, work together, to ring out the great truths we all want to hear.


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Whole wheat bread.



Yesterday I made whole grain wheat bread for the first time. I had never made bread of any kind before arriving in France. A good first. Then I starting making the jam for the bread. Another first. We love the bread, but Dominque convinced me that we should try some whole grain. It was absolutely delicious! We both loved it!

It’s easy to let a day go by, days go by, and before you know it – you’ve lived a lifetime of sameness, or passed through a lifetime, but I’m not sure you’ve really lived. I don’t want that to be me. I want to taste something new from the palm of my hand. Feel something new from the palm of my heart.

I’m writing to you today from the airport in Amsterdam. My first blog from here. I’m sitting next to the first (and only) Frenchman I ever loved. The bread, the blogs, the travel, none of this would have happened if I hadn’t taken a leap of love and tried something new. Perhaps it takes a lot of firsts to find the things that last. And that my friends, tastes like a life!


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The journey.

“…rocks in shoes are as much gifts as well lit roadways – all a part of this yearly, this daily, this hourly, this constant journey home.” jodi hills

I have already started packing in my head. Soon it will actually be time to fill the suitcase. I’m getting better at it. I still have a lot to learn, but progress is being made. I used to think that I had to bring everything. The amount of luggage I brought with me on trips years ago was astounding. I hung on to my things desperately. Perhaps it was because I had learned how easily it could all be taken away. So I clung.

When I moved to France, I made the decision to sell, give-away, repurpose, most of my belongings. And surprisingly, it was fairly easy. Maybe when your heart is full you don’t need to carry as much with you.

What I need now, are the things I create. The books, the paintings, the photographs, the memories, and mostly the experiences new. None of which need to be ported. People often ask if it is difficult to sell a painting. And the answer is, of course, a little, but the true joy is in the creating, not the having. Every stroke lives within.

I write it all down today, as a reminder to myself. Keep the luggage light, Jodi. Let go the conversations, the hurt, the disappointments of every yesterday, throw in a little joy, a few cute dresses, and leave a lot of room for what’s to come! The adventure awaits. Not just on vacation. Every day! There is only living. Pack light. Feel everything. Travel far. Find your way home.


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Feeling yellow

Feeling yellow.

He was probably only 12 when he came into the studio, but he asked a very intelligent question. He looked at the large painting of lemons, and then the checkered taxi. He compared the simplicity of the large lemons to the intricate details of the cab. “Is it easier to paint the simple things?” he asked. I smiled. I liked that he was thinking. Pondering the strokes. I told him it was a good question. “No,” I said, and went on to explain why. “You would think so, just at first glance – but the details actually work as a map, directions…the details give you more of the answers than the simple shape of the lemon or the bowl or spoon. With the detailed paintings, you are provided with more tools, but with the simple ones, you have to supply the tools, contribute the interest – the feeling. You can create a story with a cab, and a person and a city… but can you do the same with a bowl of lemons. Because that’s the goal, with all creations, I suppose, is to create a story, evoke meaning, sentiment, feelings.”

“How do you make the yellows different?” he asked. We stepped closer. I showed him the yellows were not just yellow, but yellow and white and blue, and red, and gray, and orange. Yellow is never just yellow. “I can feel it,” he said. What a perfect answer. Not just see it, but feel it.

Today you will be given a multi-colored, yellow sun, filled with the simple and the intricate details of a day. Celebrate the beauty in both. Create your story. Find the meaning. Today is never just a day. Feel it!!!


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Stumbling into joy.

It was no surprise that we stumbled upon the Storybook Sculpture garden in Abilene, Texas. I’ve been trying to get there my whole life. I didn’t know this sculpture garden existed, but storybook land…I stepped foot into it when I was a toddler, grocery shopping with my mother at Olson’s Supermarket, and in many ways, I’ve never left.

The shopping carts were lined up just after the automatic doors, in front of the large front windows. The sunlight seemed to lead directly to the first display of books and magazines. The bottom row, just in reach, was set aglow with Golden Books. And what a perfect name for them – for they were golden — treasure! Less than a dollar each, my mother allowed me to pick out one, not every visit, but quite often. My legs dangling from the silver cart, I held it. Smelled it. Hugged it. Knowing the adventure that would come when it was read to me that evening.

Soon, I no longer fit into the cart, and Mrs. Bergstrom taught us to read in the first grade at Washington Elementary. I picked out the books now by the title, and not just the pictures. I could read them myself, sometimes even before the shopping was done. What a world! Opening golden! I knew I would never leave.

I have traveled around the world. I really believe it has been possible, only because I started in these words, these books, this land where all things were possible. And it all still seems as magical to me as the day I was placed in front of the bottom row of books at Olson’s Supermarket.

I still keep a stack of Golden Books on my bedside table — a reminder to live in the magic, to keep believing, to keep dreaming, keep searching for the daily treasure.

I will be the first to admit, I sometimes wander off the storybook path, and get lost in the worries of the day, but somehow, I always find my way back, stumbling into joy. How golden!


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Collide

In the first email I sent to Dominique, I said I hoped our two worlds would collide. I can’t ever remember using those words before – never the word collide. He said he would come to Minneapolis. I smiled upon reading, hoping, but not really believing anyone makes Minneapolis a destination from France. But he came. Upon leaving the first restaurant where we ate our first meal together, he picked up one of the postcards from the table at the door. On it, the word “collide.” Some things are just meant to be.

Married, traveling together to New Orleans, I took the photo at the Frenchman’s art market. It rests now in our office in France. I think we are meant to connect. Perhaps the world has become too accustomed to notice the differences. Differences are easy, maybe too obvious, so we focus on them. Our color, our voice. But if we take the time, make the effort, we can find the connections. And they can be so beautiful. And the changes don’t have to be huge. I’m not saying you have to go to a different country, or even a different state, (although I’m a firm believer in doing so, if you have the means), but you can get a different perspective just by changing the route you take to work. Trying a new restaurant. Reading a new book. Watching a different news program. Expand your view. You never know what you might run into.