So very agley

Alexander Nasmyth's painting of Robert Burns, 1759

Alexander Nasmyth’s painting of Robert Burns, 1759

Perhaps you’ve heard those lines by Robert Burns,*

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,/Gang aft agley”

It’s usually given in English as plans that go awry, but I’m partial to the original. For one thing, it neatly conjures a Scots accent. And “Gang aft agley” just sounds better to me.

I had extensive plans. And the agley they have gang is something to behold. Here’s how it went.

Though we left Spain in the second week of July, we were at our home in New England for less time than a teenager can sleep in one stretch,† and then headed to the mountain west for a full schedule of activities, including a niece’s wedding, a house clean-out, a family reunion, a drive to Oregon, and a campout referred to as “Attack of the Squirrels.”


A month after we flew in to Boston from Istanbul, we flew in again from Salt Lake City, this time on a red-eye flight. Coming on the heels of six months in Spain, a couple of days in Turkey, and a month of every-which-way, we finally arrived home in a somewhat altered mental state.

Here’s how I pictured that our settling in would go. When we left in January, we had gotten the house ready for renters by putting a lot of stuff in boxes and storing them in the backs of closets or in the office or the barn. So the house was much less cluttered than usual, closer to how we’d like it eventually to be permanently. I thought we’d be systematic, taking a few things out at a time, carefully evaluating whether we really needed whatever it was, and probably sending a lot of it away.

Here’s how things actually happened. In the first week we were home, Loquita brought in all the boxes she had packed away when she went off to college and opened them all up to sort in the living room. We thought we’d try to fix the leaking kitchen faucet, and found that “fix” gave way to “replace,” which meant the water was off for an extended period, the counters were covered with plumbing debris, everything came out of the cupboard under the sink, and we stood around in the aisle of the home improvement store trying to decide what we could put up with.

Next, there were some pressing needs for some items that necessitated pulling things out of the office and generally churning and rummaging around in a manner entirely unlike the thoughtful and methodical scene I had scripted. You know the scenes in cartoons where someone is hunting for something in a box and is madly throwing stuff over alternating shoulders? If not strictly accurate, it captures the feeling.

It wasn't quite this bad.

It wasn’t quite this bad.

Then during Loquita’s shower, water began dripping from the ceiling onto the electronics in the office, which meant another extended period with the water shut off, another punishing stretch in the aisle of the home improvement store, followed by extension cords snaking around, supplies and tools in piles, and El Guapo using a circular saw while wedged inside a cupboard not much bigger than a junior high locker.

Did I mention that we had to pull out every last item from the walk-in pantry in the campaign to take it back from the mice? We haven’t actually seen any of them, but from what they left behind, clearly they had invited all their friends and relations, and they have been partying hard for many months.◊

And Ninja needed all manner of gear for a three-day scout campout. Where’s the good compact flashlight? Oh, we could have left it up with the wreckage of the shower, or we might have needed it to see how things are going down with the mouse war.

The contrast between the scene I envisioned of orderly and systematic contemplation and the actual avalanche of stuff in nearly every room in the house could hardly be more pronounced.

It seems like the difference between a plane that comes in for a perfect landing, and one whose landing gear fails to descend, so the plane instead skids out of control on its underside, slewing madly, accompanied by terrific screeching sounds and sparks flying everywhere.


It is nice to be home, even if things didn’t work out quite like I thought they would. It felt to me like I had plans, but maybe they weren’t best laid; perhaps there was too great an element of wishful thinking and too little in the way of project management specifics involved. In any event, since we didn’t manage our re-entry meticulously, at least we can say that we have gang aft agley in a truly spectacular manner.



*Written in 1785, To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough. The link has a nice side-by-side translation from the Scots.

†Ninja is still a comparatively early riser—I speak here of your garden variety teen, or perhaps of Loquita, who can probably do 12 or 13 hours without any trouble.

◊The mice may have thought they could go on eating every possible thing and relieving themselves onto every surface, but no. We are determined to cause those particular mouse plans to go agley. Robert Burns knew how these things can go.

[Images: Wikipedia,,]

4 thoughts on “So very agley

  1. Well, in a way your plans did go as planned, the ones for repairs lol. It’s too bad you had to deal with all of that as soon as you got home. Not a very nice welcome home from the house, maybe it was complaining to you to not leave it for so long lol. (That is what an Asian would say) I hope things go much smoother for you and your family now and no more surprises! I always like to read your posts, they are informative, funny and touching all at the same time. You should work for a newspaper and write a column. I think you’re way better than Ann Landers and right up there with Erma Bombeck. Talk to you later, Marie

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Oh dear! Sounds like quite the adventure and not one I am interested in experiencing. 😀 Plumbing problems are just the worst.

  3. Pingback: Lori Notes turns 300 | Lori Notes

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