When It Rained, It Poured….

         June, 2015

Front yard as it has been....

Front yard as it has been….

It was time to shore up the eroding slope in front of my house – and extend my front yard.

High on the mountain, the Prince of Peace watched over the valley

High on the mountain, the Prince of Peace watched over the valley

On Tuesday, June 2 our ‘Prince of Peace’ statue that stood high on a rock at the northern entrance to San Isidro de El General was hit by single bolt of lightning and reduced to rubble. After thirty five years! It felt like a warning.

ready for the grass!

Ready for the grass!

Then, the next day, June 3 albeit with a small sense of foreboding because of the statue….Billy and his 72 year old worker, Jesus finished filling the dirt behind the new wall that bordered my new extended yard. It was also a plan  to shore up the slowly eroding slope. My usual builder Oscar had finished the work on the wall just a few days earlier and was now in Panama, working. The new plantings were even ready for the next day when Billy and Jesus planned to put on the topsoil and roll out the sod grass we had stacked and ready…   All was well….

An hour after Billy and Jesus left it started to rain and it did not stop until ten p.m. – eleven hours! This was surely a record for this area – very rare…and I didn’t sleep well, going out into the dark several times to try to peer at the fresh, dry 35 backhoe loads of dirt that were just soaking up the steady rain. At daybreak, I looked out to see the soggy front yard and as soon as the morning light permitted, I investigated further.

There it was, a crack in the wall…. Uh oh.

Sure enough. The wall was failing, and behind it the thirty-five backhoe loads of now drenched, heavy clay mud was threatening to pour through any break and down to the access driveway of my neighbors below. I was stunned. I couldn’t call Oscar so I called Billy and Jesus. In the next few days we decided that the wall would have to be replaced. Oscar came back from Panama and asked to redo the wall – I would pay for the materials but he would receive no money for labor. In truth it was a combination of factors that led to the failure of the wall, not the least of which was serious miscommunication (everything in Spanish).

  • g billy and jesus workingThe project involved two 3 ft. high, 4 ft wide gaviones (steel cages filled with rocks) at the base of a concrete block wall that I saw as a retaining wall but Oscar saw as more of a garden wall. He was shocked at the amount of dirt. And so was his meager garden wall.  Why shocked? It has to do with the meaning of ‘level’.
  • What is level? After hearing myself say the word ‘level’ at least a dozen times I was sure Oscar heard me. But did he understand what I meant by level? Oscar apparently interpreted ‘level’ to mean a gradual, even slope down to the gaviones. I was thinking level meant perfectly horizontal – as in ‘the bubble on the level is right in the center’!  In thinking about it later, I realized that Ticos who live here are often ‘level challenged’..  They do not live in a horizontally level country. Imagine living in a country about the size of West Virginia. Now imagine grabbing the corners of this country and stretching it out level, meaning horizontal. The stretched version  would be the size of Texas. This country has virtually no horizontally level surfaces! Everything slopes….  So, Oscar’s version of level meant a gradual, even slope down to the gaviones and not needing a retaining wall and he thought his son David could finish up the dirt in a couple of days…..


dirt arrives by backhoe...

dirt arrives by backhoe..

breaking the wall

breaking the wall

So we had to rebuild the wall as a true retaining wall.  They began by breaking down the existing wall and removing the dirt, piling it up on the yard so that Oscar and his team could re fortify and rebuild using retaining wall rebar and construction. A cap stone tied it altogether and four concrete ‘dead-men’ extended back into the yard to further stabilize and anchor the retaining wall.  The piles of dirt were covered with plastic to keep them as dry as possible if it rained.

And so it went…..

Franks casita view

My yard bordered by the eroding slope in front….

I wound up sick with bronchitis and the project was finally finished a month plus later. The rolled up sod remained rolled up until it was finally able to be placed on the ground…..and it is slow going, slower growing . But! As with all things here…..poco a poco.


Things are looking up now, a month and a half later!  The dogs and I can see how it will eventually be – a wonderful and level, (meaning horizontal) yard for dog play and a reinforced front yard. Pura Vida!


Franks casita view new yard

Ready for the sod…..


Sod in and growing….


New Yard 7.19.15

early morning from my front porch…..It is going to be wonderful one day very soon!




  1. Hi Jan,

    Now, that’s what I call level! Very pretty. Loved your story about getting things level. I can hardly wait to read more here, but am anxious to write to you first. I’m so pleased to hear from you again. I also love Casa Tranquila, the vibrant colors, the exact placement and shape of the color spaces and the flowers!

    I will keep in touch. I am glad grief is over for you. I am glad I know you!

    Best Regards Always,

  2. Jan what an incredible ordeal! And getting sick on top of walls and leveling! I guess this is part of the challenge of living in another country….
    Anyway, good call to put in the retaining wall and how lovely the yard looks. XO

  3. Dear Jan,

    How vividly you write! something like your painting but more so.

    Please let me know when your autobiography will be published and how I can purchase it.

    I long to come to Costa Rica for your workshop. I remember the beautiful countryside, especially la selva and el Rio Sarapiqui way back in 1962, June through August.

    Please let me know sometime soon what I can estimate for the cost of the travel and the workshop. Eric would come too, but he is more interested in sketching and photography than painting. He’s sold photos to absolute strangers. I haven/t managed that yet, but I’m still plugging away.

    Our 6 kids all have some sort of job now (fingers crossed) so we can probably manage the trip next spring or summer. ”depending on how many dependents we have! love always, Marke

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