Monday, October 14, 2013


I have no fond childhood memories of this place.

Altgeld Gardens is one of Chicago's many Housing Projects.  A cloister for the forlorn.

We lived there but it was never home. 

I suppose I may have looked forward to walking through that door once or twice.  However, there was no loving mother or father to greet my siblings and me.  No love to be found at all.

My mother would leave us for days on end.  My older sister would pull a cushion from the dingy couch and the four of us would huddle in the nest that it formed until she returned.

More often, however, we would be tied to our cots in a locked room until she came back, whispering sweet nothings and offering us fruit in plastic cups. We warmed ourselves around the oven in the kitchen and we basked in her fleeting attention.

We were grimy.  We had no clothes.  No shoes.

Sometimes we would escape and run to the playground, naked and dirty.  
Occasionally, a kind hearted person would leave scraps of white bread for us in the trash cans where we would scavenge.  I'm sure it was intentionally placed there, for it was set on newspaper on top of the cans.
We were certain it was left by Jesus Himself.

I met my first hero here.  A tall, lanky, black boy of about 14 years with an afro as big as the world!  He carried me home after I stepped on a burning cigarette butt with my bare feet while watching him play basketball with the other kids.
Whenever I come upon that scar on the heel of my foot I think of him.

Where are you now, my hero?

Altgeld Gardens, Chicago Housing Projects

I imagine there are happy tales that come out of the projects.   After all, a home does not solely consist of four walls.  Even as a child I knew that all it really took to make a home was love.

This was my backyard, where my beloved kitty died in my arms. My mother had been gone for days and kitty waited for us by the door after being hit by a car. I heard her crying but I could not escape my bonds.  I ran to the back door as soon as my mother arrived and released us but it was too late. I don't remember her name.  It keeps me awake some nights, trying to recall her name.

Then one day our mother left for good.

The Chicago police found us naked, tied to soiled cots.  What must they have thought of  our protruding bellies and emaciated limbs?  I remember the creak of their leather coats as they took them off and placed them on our frail, shivering, filthy bodies.
They even let us wear their hats.
I wish I could see them again, to thank them.  I have tried to find them to no avail.

We were placed in various foster homes around the city.  Sometimes with our siblings, other times alone.

The abuse that we endured in those places made life with our mother look like paradise in comparison. Malnourished bodies, broken bones, bloody noses and crushed spirits.  We lived in constant fear. 

 We soon discovered that sometimes people become foster parents merely for the money.

Dark days indeed.

I recall the first time I saw a book at the home of a foster parent; Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Match Girl.  It mesmerized me.  I could not read because we had not attended school but I studied the photographs.
 Determined to be a part of her world, I learned to read in earnest.

Books became my refuge.  The one constant in a life of tumult.  They became my home. 

When my husband and I bought our first home my first endeavor was to create a room for my dear friends.
Each room in my home bears resemblance to something I plucked from a fairytale or a book long ago.  If you look you will see the dining room from the Little Match Girl, the armoire from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, details from Alice InWonderland, even glimpses of Miss Havisham's home from Great Expectations and The Secret Garden among many others.

This particular room is not just an ordinary library!  This is where I go to visit with Charles Dickens, Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm and so many other beloved companions whose stories changed the course of my life.

This is where I sit with my precious daughter and introduce her to the artistry of words that have the magical ability to transform and heal.

I am eternally grateful for the life I have been given.  I wouldn't change a thing. This is where I belong.

I am home.




  1. Andie my dear friend..I'm so sorry about your lack of proper upbringing..My heart is just bleeding for you and your siblings..You have come so far and what a lucky little girl your daughter is to have a mama and daddy and a home that truly says I love and will protect you..Many more years of blessings to you..Hugs Gloria

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  2. I hope you are writing your autobiography for publication -- complete with copious illustrations, Andie. are you? It is a very touching -- and tremendously inspiring -- story.

    You must have something very special inside you to have been able to overcome all of that so brilliantly, and so beautifully.

    Of all the many people I've encountered in recent years, you are one of very few I would like to get to know in full detail.

    From the way you present yourself one could never guess that yours had been a childhood of deprivation and misery. You OVERCAME.

    How you did it would give us all tremendous inspiration to help overcome our own petty trifles, I should think.

  3. It makes my heart hurt to read this and I am all so aware of so many others back then and today who are forced to go through there life this way. I had parents and a big fine home. We lived on the farm, my mother was good in many ways. She made sure we had 3 hot meals, there was always food as we were on the farm. My father chased women and gave my mother a sad life. We hardly ever had cloths, especially me as I was the youngest of 6 boys. My father hated and resented me because I did not, would not, work like an animal on the farm. I hid under the bed and played with my sisters doll. It was an escape. If my father caught me I was beat with a switch that I was forced to go cut. I was afraid of the dark and my older brothers would lock me out of the house at night. I would go sleep with the dogs. My father raised hunting dogs and there was a large kennel full. They were my friends, my warmth and my protection. If my father came at me with the switch the dogs would grawl at him. I turned out Ok, as I found a way to leave when I was only 14. I lead the rest of my life as I wanted. I only wanted beautiful things and people around me. It makes a difference. We often wander how we turned out as we did. You are the smartest,most talented person I know. No wonder you heart is so full, I hope it always stays that way. With all the blessing possible I send my love. Richard and Sissy

  4. Thank you for sharing such an intimate story Andie.

  5. Andie, I'll start by saying thank you so much for sharing the darkness of your sad childhood, which is probably what has made you the amazing human being you are today! God has blessed you with a home, which with your "supreme intelligence," you have made a loving one.

    I say this because so many people grow up to be just as BAD as their progenitors; but you my friend, full of love inside you and a very brightest of minds, became quite the contrary; that's why I say, you are very admirable and you have my forever respect!!!

    }You have a gorgeous home, and a wonderful family with your DD and husband. May God keep blessing you now. You have inspired me to never complaint about anything at all.

    I grew up in a low-middle class income family, of immigrant parents.... but always had a loving home with parents who gave us more than what they had; it seems to me now. I have shared tiers as I scrolled down reading, for a while I thought..and even wished it was a story you were telling us and not your very own childhood story...amazing how some 'humans' (maybe?) could really be so cruel and selfish!!! Please receive my respect and my most emotional feelings go out to you and may God always keep blessing your life, which is what counts now.


  6. You have come so far emotionally and of course financially. But your spirit is amazing to me. Instead of repeating such a horror you went 100 degrees opposite oozing with so much love. wow.
    If only so many wounded souls could make it like you did. I come across so many people who have not even experienced a fifth what you have and live with such pity and constant looking back. You talk of the black boy being a hero the real hero is you Andie. Your story brought tears to my eyes. I've been gone so long just getting back into blogging. Yours is the first blog I've read tonight. You have so much to share!
    Pamela xo

  7. Andie I am speechless!
    You have so transcended your young lot in life to become such an amazing success story and incredible human being. I am honored to know you through this medium. You are truly an inspiration and a complete blessing not only to your precious family but to everyone fortunate enough to cross your path.
    May God continue to shower you with countless blessings and continue to touch people through you!!!
    Love you,


  8. Oh, Darling! I'm so sorry for all of your hurt and heartaches. You are truly amazing to have come so far and to be so full of love and talent. So many would have turned out badly, I'm afraid. I'm so thankful you have a loving family now and have created such a beautiful home that is filled with so much love! This must have been hard to share this with us, but thank you for doing it.
    Love you,
    Shelia ;)

  9. Wow that was haunting and gave me goose bumps. I felt your pain in the words that your wrote but also the joy of the love that you found and the beauty that your home is filled with now. Beauty not in material things, although your house is gorgeous, but in the way you have filled it with emotions...HOME

  10. Oh too hurt to even try to answer. Like the person above...I too was hoping this was NOT. your story. My siblings and I had a sad story full of beatings and broken spirits...but not so horrible as yours. May GOD grant you continued. Healing and blessings. Mary (The old Elf) who at 73 still wishes it had been so much better for all of us.

  11. Andie, I applaud you, you turned the pain of the last time you felt safe into the beauty you now hold. I now see a whole side of you that I knew was came from something deep and dark. Yes my friend I felt a connection with you and a bond in what you share. It was always there if you looked deep into your soulfulness.
    Andie, I have commented you many times before that to are a writer of words, that you have a true connection with them, you have a story, a brave one and one looking at what you have accomplished would never know the pain you were so a custom to.

    This story as I read I thought to myself...No! She is not really talking about herself, she must be going somewhere with this, there must be a moral to the ending to only read on and realize this was your life and what beautiful sad words your childhood held onto.
    Can I say they were beautiful? When so honestly worded from your mouth there is beauty in the depths of this dark place you have pulled yourself out of.
    Andie, we have read many sad post from you, and oh so touching but, this one leaves me sad and angry that your mother did not see the future in the beauty you offer.

    How are your siblings? And what became of your Mother?
    Andie, you speak of your Hero, or hero's ?.....No my dear, you are our hero !

    I would love to wrap my arms around you tightly to tell you how brave you are to tell your story, you are someone to love.

    Thank you Andie,
    Don't ask me why I am thanking you, I just am.



  12. Dearest Andie,

    I never knew.

    One never knows what others have experienced and especially in this format of blogging, when we can't see each other and converse in depth.

    To some degree, I experienced something similar, with the result being the desire to create a haven, to give away what I never had. Have you thought of writing a memoir, or is that already in the works? Thank you for your very kind comment on my blog post. Much love, Anita

  13. OMG Andie. i am speechless both by the story you told, your brave voice, your perseverance, your strength and the courage that it takes to not only endure what you had to go through but to come out of it and be able to see the silver lining. I feel like this could be a book, and you have indeed created your very own real life fairytale now. It seems like you are in a good place now, blessed with a daughter and husband, and your home is just exquisite.....that room alone looks like something out of a fabulous chateau in France. What a wonderful refuge you have created, whereas for most its as aesthetic thing that motivates but with you, its much more, much deeper.....I kept reading thinking you were (hoping) trying your hand at fictional writing or maybe telling us about a story you read not thinking it was your own.
    I really commend you for having the courage to write this post, which I can imagine required digging deep and coming face to face with many scars that are still alive with pain and hurt. Sometimes the healing is in the revelation and in the connection with others.
    I am most touched by this, wish I could reach through the computer and give you the biggest bear hug. You have a lot of fans and clearly people in your life who love you very much. Some peoples blessings come later in life.....may yours come in spades, it is well deserved. Look how far you have come, you are a true inspiration. Thank you for showing us your heart, your soul and sharing a painful part of your life with us......the vulnerability is inspiring and humbling. You are a true hero in every sense Andie! May God bless you now and always......

  14. Oh my dear Andie...would that I could wrap my arms around you and erase the terrible memories. One time I told Dave, "I just don't understand how people can deliberately hurt other people." His reply, "And you may thank God for it." I cannot understand, Andie, but what I do know is you are loved with an everlasting love and that love causes your heart to overflow, pouring more love upon your daughter, giving her the childhood and life you never had.
    Thank God for books, they were my earliest friends and took me places I didn't even know existed. You're a wise woman, to give your daughter such an endless journey, she'll thank you all the days of her life.
    If you're ever in the south, please visit me. It's just an old country farmhouse but it's cozy, warm and you can put your feet on the furniture. You are loved...

  15. I thought you were writing fiction, i hoped it was just a story, I prayed you would end with one of your quips. Now, your love of strays becomes clearer.

  16. For some comic iPad is messing me around again.
    Anyway, before it cut me off,

  17. Oy, it did it again,. I was going to say, you have a friend on me. Your story makes my tribulations with my aging parents seem so petty. Well, petty may not be the right word, but what I'm going through is normal though distressing, and what you endured was criminal and brutal. I understand now why you choose some of the artwork you do, the paintings of women with children and angels. I have no stupid jokes for you right now, that's how much your story meant to me that you shared it.

  18. I am so touched by your life and wondered as I started reading if this was a story you were telling. Hardships in life can lead people on different paths and clearly you had the fortitude to forge ahead and make a wonderful life for you and your family. For that I am in complete awe. Your daughter is lucky to have you as her mother, one that has seen so much, and has made it her mission to make a better life for others. Thank you for your wonderful inspiration to me this morning and know that I am sending a virtual hug your way...

  19. First of all, I would like to go back in time and give a hug to the little girl you were long ago, huddled on that pillow. I have often enjoyed your writing and the imaginative spirit with which you decorate your home. How I admire and respect your amazing home and wonderful childhood you are creating for your own child.

  20. Andie,
    This took a lot of courage to write, to see on paper, for you. And now that I know, so much of your home, your philosophy, your faith, fits, and can figure out why you do what you do. To know where you existed, compared to where you are now, it's chilling, and amazing and truly God's Hands carried you there. Do you keep in contact with your siblings? And, your kitty is in Heaven, waiting, with a new name that you'll know instantly, because that's just how Heaven is, my dear Andie.
    You're launching into a new venture, aren't you? You're moving towards doing a new thing. That's what I sense here...

  21. Oh my darling friend, words can't even describe what I'm feeling for you right now. I'm so happy you shared this with us. Happy stories do come from such dismal places -your loving family, your imagination, and all of your many talents ensued, strange as it may seem! Miracles do happen and I'm happy you shared it with all of us. While I was blessed as a child in my family, I never quite fit in and books were my refuge from the world as well - the common bonds that tie us all.xo

  22. Your life - how can that happen in America? And, yet, I see it time and again. Children treated thusly then sent to foster care. I live in an economically depressed part of the state and have yet to meet a foster family that doesn't do it for money. Just horrible. I volunteered at an alternative school where kids would rattle off the meds they were on, that their parents were in prison; most were in foster care. They knew the foster families were just taking them in for the money. Many of them slept on acquaintances couches for a week or so, then had to sleep on someone else's and on and on... Again, how can that be here in America. These kids were so messed up, which I guess leaves me to ponder, how does one overcome, when another is destroyed by life? May you find comfort each and every minute of every day. The old saying, "you can't save the world, but do what you can," needs to be repeated by all of us daily.

  23. I am without words. I have read all this twice, and wondered what to say. You are truly a testament to the human spirit, and that it is possible to overcome the worst. It also makes me think that there is no excuse for people who try to excuse a life of of crime by saying "I had a poor upbringing." All we have to do is look at you to see that a person can become who they are meant to be if the will is there.

  24. First let me say how sorry I am. I hope all is well with your brothers and sisters. This is all so sad. I am glad you were so strong , that you pushed through and made to where you are today with a wonderful husband and a beautiful daughter that knows how much you love her, It shows it all the posts that you speak of them. I thank you for sharing this private and touching story, It makes all of us realize how blessed we are.

  25. Andie I read your post and in my poor english is very difficult to say really sad how life was at your childhood but because of you, you really changed your story.
    My admiration and my respect for someone who overcame their tremendous difficulties. Chapeau!!
    Julia C.

  26. God bless you & your strong beautiful spirit

  27. I...cant even express how I felt after reading this...I cried and I prayed. You are a survivor and tough as hell. Please stay like this forever

  28. We are blessed you share your gifts.

    You are among the rare with both interior and garden design skills.

    Totally understand not wanting to change one bit of the past.....because the present is so good.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  29. This was heartbreaking to read and yet beautifully related. I too came from a home of abuse...I also feel as you do that there is a purpose to the insanity. I learned what forgiveness is in its deepest sense and I can tell that you have too; as you mindfully and purposefully chose to transcend the ties. You are innately full of joy and wonder and we have the priviledge of being included in your take on life! Thank you for sharingxob

  30. Good Morning Andie, I was so very sad when I read about your young life, I had tears in my eyes and could not believe the words I was reading. The thought, that as a young child you suffered so much is beyond words. I remember you left a comment on my blog, a little while ago, when I wrote that when Ivy, my grandmother, was a little girl, she could choose between bread and jam and bread and butter, but she could not have both. I remember your comment, how you read this with tears in your eyes..... I now understand why.
    The human spirit is an amazing thing and you have a very strong spirit to have overcome your young life. I now see why, you love to surround yourself with beautiful things, you are creating that beautiful home which you never had.
    Do you know Andie, this is the most difficult comment I have ever written, my mind just keeps going back to you as a little girl and the dreadful life you had to cope with. I will never forget your story, and I have to tell you, I think you were so very brave to share it with us. You cannot change your past, but you can certainly change your future and you have certainly done that by the bucket load.
    I always thought you were a tremendously talented young lady, but I now know, you are also a very brave and wonderful young lady.
    Andie, you are truly an amazing young lady and testament to the strength of the human spirit.
    With all the love in the world,

  31. I don't know how you made it through such hopelessness. Your story has haunted me. Thank you for sharing your story.

  32. I simply can't take your background into my mind..... I think of you now with a husband and child and beautiful home and such talents and I marvel.
    God bless you, Andie. I'm glad you survived; we're all lucky to 'know' you. Z

  33. Andie,
    Thank you for sharing these details publicly -- worthy of publication, as FT mentioned.

    You have triumphed! Your spirit soared above the abuse and the travesties!

    What else is there for me to say?

  34. I only recently discovered your blog and love your cleverly worded stories, the pictures of the beautiful home you have created and your wonderful way with words. I was shocked to read this post and realize what a miracle you are! You overcame so much to be the creative and insightful person you are. Your daughter and husband are very lucky. I appreciate your blog all the more now.

  35. I am speechless...your writing is generous, heartfelt, and real! I stumbled upon your blog tonight and had to read your story twice. I feel enriched by reading what you have shared. It feel the love coming through every word. You are a gift to the world. You are an inspiration!

  36. I missed this post and tonight I scrolled back and back through your posts as Betsy told me of your story that you posted so bravely here. Oh my Andie, so glad you have endured and can live the rest of your life with a loving husband. Just really shows how much the human spirit can endure and persevere. You are loved. I am so sorry that you had to live that life. It is heart breaking to read, but am so pleased for you to be able to put it on paper and to share it here. xo

  37. Dearest Andie,
    Let me start by saying what an inspiration you are. Five minutes ago I was reading your recent blog of your beautiful home thinking OMG she has such a gorgeous house and I want everything! Then I found myself on this post and how I cried. I cried for you and I cried for me. I cried for you for having to go through such heartache and horror that no little girl should ever go through. I cried for you for overcoming all that and becoming the wonderful you...the funny you...the talented you...the loving you. I cried for me because today is my birthday and I feel so far away from home. Yes my children are my home now but on a day like today, being oceans away from the only home I ever knew with people I love is very hard. All day long today I have been going about my day blaming a cold for this gloomy mood but after I read your post, I find myself sobbing..for the both of us. And somehow I needed that. So Thank you, my dear.

  38. There are no words for the cruelty you and your siblings endured. I am so glad to know you through your blog. You are an amazing woman. I wish for you continued happiness and love. You write beautifully and you should consider putting your story in a book to inspire others.
    Sending so much love to you~ ~ ~Ahrisha~ ~ ~

  39. Oh Andie I am so very sorry that you had to experience that as a child. It is absolutely horrid!! This must have been very difficult for you to share, but I am so thankful that you did. I feel I "know" you so much better now. Out of all that pain you have ascended and created a life FULL of beauty, magic,grandeur and KINDNESS!!
    I wish I could say that I have no idea what those kind of memories feel like?...And how they haunt...........But I do. I am sending you HUGE (((HUGS))) Can you feel them?.....Vanna

  40. Andie, I am so glad to have seen your post today on twitter which led me learn these truths about you. What an inspiration. My Heavens...Thank you for sharing.
    Candace Wagner

  41. And I thought I had a bad childhood! Books were my best friends, too. The rest I try to forget except when I'm using my experiences to figure out why people are the way they are. We use what we can and we look to the future. I so admire your vision and the dramatic theatre-ness of your home. (As opposed to a house, which becomes a home only when it has people living in it). Your vision & post give me a peek at what can be, rather than what is. To overcome your past is a grand thing and to have the courage to share it, even grander. Many would hide a post so painful. Thanks for sharing.....

  42. A new friend just directed me to your blog and I have read your story. Thank you for sharing your journey. Your gardens are lovely! I too love gardening and tea time!

  43. A new friend just directed me to your blog and I have read your story. Thank you for sharing your journey. Your gardens are lovely! I too love gardening and tea time!

    1. I am so sorry I missed this. I guess google stops giving notice of new posts after certain amount of time has passed.

  44. Andie, I've followed you for a couple of years now, but until tonight had never read your story. Then I looked at the date it was posted and it was the day after my birthday. I've felt drawn to you in your appreciation of love and beauty that transcends the way most people look at HOME. And that is an all-caps HOME. When one has not had a childhood home, as neither you nor I did, one develops a fervent desire to know that, to feel that, and to appreciate all the richness and beauty that comes along with finding people who love us and are loved by us. While my childhood was not as vividly raw as yours was, it was indeed awful. My father terrorized and beat my mother and us, and especially me. He sexually abused me as well. And my mother was and is narcissistic and threw us under the bus regularly so his attentions would turn to us kids instead of her. I never knew what real love and acceptance felt like until I met my current husband (of 25 years). Now I'm HOME. What we have built together is incredible, but sometimes the darkness of the past creeps in, as I'm sure happens to you as well. Surrounding ourselves with beautiful things, and supporting the rich tapestry of intentional family is what heals us. Bless you for telling your story. I see you, and appreciate you.


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