HOLIDAY — John and Tina Reis have figured out how to beat the heat and not have to mow their back yard: cover every inch of it with an installation of self-designed, handcrafted amenities.
It's not that they don't like to work. Actually, all landscaper John, 43, and ad agency employee Tina, 42, do in their spare time is work on their back yard.
Walk out the back door of their modestly sized house on Eastwood Lane and step into the coolness of a gazebo shading a table for eight. To the side, a covered grill dominates a roofless outdoor kitchen complete with sink and minifridge.
Behind the house, water cascades through a mountain of pots, some artfully broken, into a pond where goldfish and koi gleam. An underground pipe connects the pond to a smaller one in a corner.
The couple's black lab, Molly, was perplexed recently when a pine deck sprang up overnight on the one patch of grass that represented her backyard retreat. But the piece de resistance is a brick oven John and Tina designed that can bake pizza and bread on one side, roast a pig or marshmallows in the middle and seat people around it convivially whether it's hot or cold outside.
The only thing the Reises didn't build themselves is a peanut-shaped pool in the middle of everything. But Tina persuaded John to incorporate leftover brick trim into the front of a concrete platform for the fireplace so people can better see the step up.
"John never has patterns for anything we make," Tina said about their oasis, which has been evolving since John, single but dating Tina, bought the house in 2003.
"I saw it had potential," John said of the roomy back yard with an overgrown grapefruit tree.
The Reises, who married in 2005, materialize their dreams in a sometimes argumentative discussion, as Tina puts it. But it's always together.
The couple brainstorm, draw — "he draws it better," Tina said — go to Home Depot and buy the materials. To date, they estimate they have spent $15,000 on their improvements, including buying a small cement mixer.
John talked Tina into the new deck on the condition they build it around the silk mimosa they've nurtured since it was a sapling. The tree has grown enough to shade the lawn furniture on the deck, John said, and "now she loves it."
But the centerpiece fireplace had two sources of inspiration: John's mother and neighbors such as Wilson on the TV show Home Improvement.
Chuck and Darlene Bailey hang notes on the chain-link fence, encouraging the Reises in their efforts. One day, there was a picture from a magazine showing an outdoor brick oven.
"Troublemakers," grumbled John affectionately.
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John started constructing the oven, remembering how his mother baked hundreds of loaves of bread in her Tuscan-style oven, burning oak and shaking the coals through a hole to collect underneath. John, his parents and four sisters are from Portugal.
Mama Reis is Tina's inspiration, too.
"My goal in life is to be as good a cook as his mother," Tina said.
John's parents, Ivo and Mercedes Reis, and sister and brother-in-law, Cecilia and Alfred Silva, recently visited from Plymouth, Mass.
They used the yard to its ultimate potential: swimming in the pool, lounging on the deck and under the gazebo, sunning and cooling off with the fountain bubbling in the background. Even Daisy, the Silvas' Pomeranian, alternately gets stringy from a dip in the pool and fluffy as her caramel-colored fur dries.
Ivo said he left a good job in the Portuguese Azores to give his girls and son a better future. Women there had few prospects beyond canning tuna in a factory or turning their baking abilities into a cottage industry, as his wife did.
Ivo spent nearly the past three decades plating aerospace parts and is about to retire. Before that job, Ivo served as the chief of security guards at the Azores' Lajes Field, which hosts an American detachment.
President John F. Kennedy gave him a letter of commendation for guarding his plane and was "nice." The same goes for another president. The family laughed as Ivo inadvertently called him Ricardo Nixon.
John is the last family member in line for U.S. citizenship. He has passed his test and awaits the date of the swearing-in ceremony, when his legal name will officially change to John from the Portuguese Joao.
Mother Mercedes said she approved of the oven, and father Ivo gave a benediction.
"He works hard. He got everything he wants," Ivo said of his son.
"This is what I'm looking for. This is why we came here."
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John and Tina have raised a wooden fence around most of the yard.
They're not solitary. They just don't want babies wandering into the pool when they're away. But they've promised to leave only a chain-link fence to the east so the Baileys can continue to cheer their progress.
The Reises believe their installation has been an inspiration to some neighbors and hope it will continue to be so.
"We just did this because we like to have a nice place to be instead of being stuck in a little tiny house," Tina said. "This is our vacation place. It's like our own little oasis."