Backyard vacations: Turn your backyard into summer fun

Even though the world is slowly opening up, a large majority of Atlantans will spend their summer vacations and weekends at home. But that doesn’t mean the backyard can’t offer a variety of activities — and you don’t even need a pool.

Stephanie Adler, a meeting planner, and her boyfriend Tyler Walch, a software developer, aren’t letting the fact that they don’t even have a backyard get in their way of summer fun. The pair live in an eight-unit apartment complex in Virginia-Highland and have a small open area behind their assigned parking space. “It was our anniversary in April and we couldn’t go anywhere, so my boyfriend wanted to surprise me. I was blown away,” she says.

Walch got a large piece of turf, added blankets and a large projector screen and turned it into an outdoor movie experience. “We don’t have a yard so we had to get creative. It’s nice being outside watching movies or documentaries together and with the dog. It’s romantic.”

Since then, they’ve added a kiddie pool and a collapsible table for meals. A grill may be next.

Movies & karaoke

Like Adler, others are also turning their yards into an entertainment zone. When they moved into their Cobb County home three years ago, Penny and Levi Bonner converted their backyard into an extra living space, putting down recycled turf and adding an inexpensive movie screen for watching football games and concerts while barbecuing with friends.

Now during the pandemic, they’ve upped the fun factor. They’ve set up a karaoke machine with three microphones so three people can participate while still being socially distant. Leading the show was her 91-year-old grandfather, George Jobe, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. “He had heart surgery in January and he’s already fragile. But he’s been so frustrated about not being able to socialize so we sent up the equipment and gave him the microphone.” Old country hits are his favorites, including Gene Watson’s “Farewell Party,” but he does a really good take on Louie Armstrong’s version of “Blueberry Hill,” she notes.

Jobe, a special education teacher at JJ Daniell Middle School in Marietta, also took on an art project recently and painted the side of a shed into butterfly wings perfect for photo ops for family and her dog. “I love to paint but I’ve not had much time for my hobbies, except for now,” she says. “Suddenly I had all this time and a blank canvas, and just went for it. I never painted anything so big in my life. We were able to let my sister’s kids into the backyard for a photo shoot.”

A fort for water balloon fights

Douglas Mulford and his sons, James, 7, and Theodore, 10, turned their backyard into Fort Fun, a wood structure that’s part fort and part exercise funhouse, complete with a zip line, swing and a cargo net. With the quarantine in full swing, the family looked for something to do at their Avondale Estates home. They planned on building a fort “at some point, but with COVID-19, it seemed like the perfect time to have a project and have the boys use the power sander with me holding on to it,” says Mulford. “It was a fun chance to teach them and work with them. Father-son bonding.”

The boys had a design competition and were tasked with coming up with the fort’s “must-haves,” which “ended up being about 110 different things,” he says. “They had trap doors, all sorts of things. We wanted them to have ownership of the fort.”

Although he and his father did a few minor building projects, he hardly claims to be handy. “I’m a chemist! I teach chemistry. I have no background in this.” They checked out library books and watched a lot of Disney+ and its “Shop Class,” which features youngsters with at-home building projects. It is “deliberately over engineered” for safety, he says.

Home Depot delivered the supplies. They used 12-foot tall beams and secured them with cement into deeply dug holes and then built a seven-foot-tall platform with railing around it. Several of the “must-haves” made it into the final design, including a cargo net to climb on to get into the fort, a tire swing and the pulley system to hoist supplies. “I didn’t want to build a ladder but that’s going to be a redesign. I may end up doing it.” The project took about a month and a half and cost around $300.

“As we speak, one kid is in the fort, the other on the trampoline and they’re having a water balloon fight,” he says.

Truck golf

Still, others such as Brooke and Matthew Blackmon, prefer a much lower key backyard experience. It’s not really backyard fun, more like front yard and over-the-street fun. “When COVID hit we were obviously looking for things to do and to be entertained. Matt and our neighbors, Megan and Jonathan Imes, took a round top of a trash can and they would hit the balls into each other’s yards trying to get it into the can. Whoever hit the target won. But it was hard, so they decided they needed a bigger target.”

Their answer was to use the Imes’ truck and hit rubber golf balls into the truck’s storage containers. And, that is how the Duke Corona golf challenge was started. Named after their street (Corona), they’ve now upped it to the Duke Masters. Neighbors come, cocktails in hand, and cheer the players as they make their best chip shots.

Not all the neighbors were thrilled. One objected thinking they used real golf balls but was fine with the rubber ones. “They’ve rolled down the street a few times and we had to have ball boys go get them, and we’ve lost a few going over the roof,” she says. “No broken windows.”

“I don’t necessarily think we would have gotten all that creative without all this going on,” says Adler. “We’d always be out somewhere, but now we’re at home enjoying it.”