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Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing, and she works full time in digital media with a large cable network. When she isn't at work, blogging, or washing someone's socks, Katie enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large and totally impractical, 113-year-old Victorian house.

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Grief-nesting and Unleashing My Inner DIY-er

By Katie Allison Granju |

So remember last week when I asked folks for feedback on the best type of paint and painting method to put some color on my wooden Adirondack chairs? Well, many of you were very, very helpful, and you made me feel like I could actually DO a project like that.

So I decided to do several projects! (And I actually haven’t gotten to the Adirondack chairs yet …)

I am sure that many or even most of you paint chairs or hang curtains all the dang time. But for me, this is a big deal. I have always been the girl from whom others carefully hide the paint … or the battery-powered screwdriver … or the  hot glue gun.  You get the idea. I’m not known for being crafty or handy — in fact, I am known as being exceptionally UN-crafty/handy — and that reputation is not entirely undeserved. As a teenager and young adult, I definitely messed up a few DIY projects I undertook, so more and more as time has passed, I just sort of accepted that I am not someone who does things like paint walls or furniture. In fact, I have yet to ever paint a single wall in my life, and the people in my family are good with that. They encourage me to step away from the paint roller.

So as time went on and this external and internal identity as NON-DIY KATIE took root and became entrenched, even when I would sometimes see a project I thought maybe I really could do — and would like to try —  all by myself, I would then remember that I am just not someone who does projects, and I would move on.

But as I have discussed before, one of the things that’s happened to me since Henry died is that I feel like I’ve lost all fear of most things that used to hold me back in life — not just the big stuff, like taking on incompetent and/or corrupt local politocos, but the little stuff, too.  Since May 31, 2010, I find that I am just more willing to say, “Ah, what the hell, I’m gonna go ahead and makeover Henry’s bedroom into a special space just for me, whether anyone has time to help me or not; I am just going to do it all by myself,” or in the case of this week’s fearless DIY project(s), “I’m just gonna go right ahead and spray paint that chair a bright cherry red. What’s the worst that could happen? Right.”


Grief manifests in some funny ways. Last year at this time – as the one year anniversary of Henry’s hospitalization (which started on April 27, 2010) and eventual death (May 31, 2010) drew closer, I was doing everything I could just to drag myself out of bed every day. I was making it every day, but I had only just begun to emerge from my emotional widow’s weeds. As I blogged last spring around this time, Henry’s Garden coming into bloom in that first April since his death gave me huge comfort, but I wasn’t really doing anything to it myself. At that point, I was really just letting the beautiful little garden work its healing magic on me, with no actual engagement in (or with) the garden on my part, beyond pulling weeds. Not much digging or planting. I just sat in there a lot.

This spring, however, I am almost obsessively active in working on and expanding Henry’s Garden (lots more on that later), and in general, I am just in this incredible nesting mode as the second anniversary of Henry’s death approaches. I know that many women experience a nesting compulsion as the birth of a baby draws near, but I’ve never heard of mothers experiencing “grief nesting” after losing a child. But that’s what I have had going on lately, starting with the room makeover I did with Henry’s bedroom over the winter. Essentially, I find that I have just been almost obsessively drawn to creating better, prettier spaces in and around our giant, old Victorian, especially when the spaces remind me of Henry.

This grief-nesting has been in full effect in the past two weeks as I have begun a complete overhaul of the “outdoor room” comprised of our wonderful front porch and small, city-sized front yard.  Our porch and yard are special spots for our family and friends; we spend a lot of time out here together. And as it happens, the last time I ever saw my son before the beating and overdose that killed him, we were hanging out here together on our porch (where I am sitting right now, typing this and listening to Neil Young). He and his girlfriend Lizzie, plus E and I all ate at the table on the porch — a stirfy I’d fixed — and then E and Henry rode their ripsticks together up and down the sidewalk in front of our house while I sat on the porchswing and talked to Lizzie. If I’d only known that that would be the last time I would ever see my two sons together outside of a hospital room, the last time I would ever see Henry walk, or play guitar … as worried as I was about him in April of 2010 — two years ago this month — I had no idea as I sat on our porchswing and felt so happy to see the boys playing together — one 12 and one 18 …



So, well, if you’re interested, here’s my progress thus far on my “outdoor room” grief-nesting makeover. Let me know what you think.

(just click the arrow to the right of each photo to view the next one in the series)

nggallery template=’carousel’ id=’18′

Grief-nesting and Unleashing My Inner DIY-er

Small glass jars for my fig tree

I bought these in the dollar aisle at Target. The plan is to hang them in our fig tree with tea lights glowing in them at night.


If you absolutely hate what I am doing, please be gentle with me in expressing that because I am feeling sort of shy about showing y’all my little projects in progress. I am sure some of you have built your own houses by hand, but for me, spray painting some chairs with no help or oversight is kind of a biggie …





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About Katie Allison Granju


Katie Allison Granju

Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing. Katie also enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large Victorian house. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katie Allison's latest posts →

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23 thoughts on “Grief-nesting and Unleashing My Inner DIY-er

  1. electricdaisy says:

    I love the red and the breezy curtains! And the tealights! Basically, I love all of it and I’m very impressed with your DIY skillz.

  2. Debbie says:

    I love it!! I think you are doing a great job!

  3. Jill says:

    Fabulous job! I really love doing little projects, and I am so impressed with the bright red chairs.

  4. S says:

    I like the porch improvements a lot, and the fairy lights in the fig tree. I will have to go and get some of them myself!
    Can’t wait to see what you do next.
    Ever think about painting your porch ceiling light blue? It supposedly keeps bugs away, and would look very pretty on your porch.

  5. steph says:

    We call it haint blue here in Charleston…y’know, to keep away the haints. I think you can actually get it from Benjamin Moore.

  6. sarah says:

    It looks amazing!

  7. Sonya says:

    I love all of it! It inspires me to try to spruce up our patio a bit, it’s never looked great, no matter what I’ve tried. Love the lights & hope those were a recent Target dollar bin purchase because I want to do that! Your porch looks amazing… the perfect rocking porch. I don’t think I would ever want to go inside!!

  8. T. says:

    I think it looks great! I still con my Dad into doing DIY projects for me. Maybe you will make me feel brave enough to give it a try for myself!

  9. Keryn says:

    Katie, I am SOOOOOOOO jealous of your porch. You are making it look so inviting and gorgeous! I love the red chairs–so lovely. And there is a special kind of sleep you get after working hard in the house or yard, isn’t there?

    Question–what did you use to put the lights in the trees? I want to copy you! :)

  10. Anne says:

    Look at you jumping into the DIY pool head first. I’m super impressed that you’ve picked red for your furniture. It is so bold but it looks great! I want to swing by and drink some iced tea with you.

  11. g. says:

    Oh, Katie, I think all of it is beautiful… I especially love the lights in the trees. I think it’s amazing that you’re able to use your grief in a productive way, too — I need to work on using my anxiety similarly!

  12. Katie Granju says:

    Thank you all so much! These nice comments make me feel even more inspired.

    @Keryn – I hung the little glass jars with the tealights in the tree using white and pale green ribbon that I bought for like 50 cents a spool at Walgreens. Fishing line might be even better, and I will likely switch that out soon.

    @Sonya – I bought those little jars with metal handles in the dollar aisle at my local Target only 7 days ago, so they should still be there.


  13. Katie Granju says:

    S. and Steph – I looooove the “haint blue” (because I love low country SC). Our porch had a less bold version of that blue on the ceiling, and now Jon’s repainting it (or has been slowly working on it for a few months), and so far he has the primer up on the ceiling, but it will definitely be redone in a true “haint blue” by summer’s end.



  14. jzzy55 says:

    It’s traditional in New England to paint the porch ceiling a flat sky blue (like the sky, I guess). I think this always looks great and shows an awareness of architectural tradition (whether folk or formal).
    I love the red furniture and the outdoor curtains. I think outdoor curtains are a fun new trend, and they do keep the glare off. After a friend bought a new house, she removed and gave us a huge and expensive electronic canvas roller awning that was mounted over a deck she demolished. I can’t tell you how much I love rolling it down (with the remote, no less) when the sun is too hot. It makes our deck into a cooler, more private space, and surely your new curtains must create the same effect.

  15. Leslie says:

    Love all of it. I am very into red right now–everything in my kitchen is red. I am quite impressed by your DIY efforts because I am kind of the same way you described yourself!

  16. geri a says:

    Love love love! I have been a DIY-er for decades, it brings me a lot of satisfaction and peace,and I have to tell you, this all looks like you’ve been at this kind of stuff for years and years. Carry on, and share the pics!

  17. Claire R says:

    I’m like you…never thought of myself as a DIY person, because I feel inept. However, I got bold when my kids moved out (empty-nest-nesting?) and totally re-did a couple of rooms and am thrilled with the results.
    Your porch makes me want to drink lemonade with mint and hang out watching your fabulous kids. I’m glad that your grief has unleashed your inner nerve for DIY. You’re doing a terrific job.

  18. Zoë says:

    It all looks great. Now I need to find something to spray paint. But now I have porch envy. I love the part of Knoxville where you live (I have a friend who used to live out that way) because the houses are stunning. I have told my husband that when we move, our new house will have a porch. Too bad many newer houses don’t come with porches like your though. Enjoy porch living!

  19. Marie says:

    I love the grief nesting concept, and it is time I do some to get myself out of this grief-filled funk. Making the world better is the best way to move forward. Also have a case of super porch envy. I don’t think porches like that exist up here in Minnesota, but they really should and I long for one.

  20. Alley says:

    I absolutely love what you did with your furniture, curtains and tree. Especially the tree… I’m a nature-themed decorating person myself; too bad they don’t make the battery-operated tealights with little timers on them, or light sensors, so you wouldn’t have to fool with going and turning them all off. Maybe like solar-powered. Or maybe those do exist, Idk. But you’re creative as all get-out. And that’s awesome!!!

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  22. Serge says:

    This is all just pure excellence. Great great job, Ms. Katie!

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