Friday miscellany: Car trips, bluegrass

I’m planning a trip in September to see some people that will involve going to Portland, Maine, and then to Boston. Initially I had planned to fly to Portland because it is a quick flight (like 90 minutes) and since it’s only me going, getting on an airplane is pretty easy. But the addition of a second city means there’s going to be more logistics involved.

I could fly to Portland, then take a train to Boston, but then I have to get somewhere on the other end. And then I would fly or train back from Boston. So I got to thinking, well, I could drive. I didn’t own a car until I was 32, so this is still not automatic for me to think of as a method of transportation!

It’s a 6-7 hours drive from my house to Portland, depending on traffic. It would be about 2 to Boston, depending on traffic, and then about 5 home. The downside is it is a lot of time in the car (if spread over 4-5 days). The upside is I could go whenever I wanted. Of course, then the question is whether I will have replaced my 12-year-old car by then. It’s usually fine but not awesome. Among other things, I need to figure out a way to charge the phone (I haven’t managed to get the cigarette lighter converter things to work). Logistics! If anyone’s taken a reasonably long solo road trip, I’d love to hear your tips.

Last night my choir rehearsed Carol Barnett’s A World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass. Then we got to Zoom with Carol Barnett herself and hear about how she made various decisions as she composed the piece. This is absolutely the fun of singing new music (and one reason I always loved the Competition for Young Composers that my choir in NYC did; we got to workshop pieces with all sorts of amazing composers like Abbie Betinis, Dominick DiOrio, etc.). Now if only I could talk to Bach… (guess I’d need to learn German…).

Speaking of Bach, I’m pretty sure my 2024 year long project will be listening to all of his music. I need to work out the logistics of this too. There are collections of all his music but I’m picky about some performances. I think it’s about 175 hours of music, so the year time frame would be good.

This year’s project, as longtime readers know, is to read all the works of Jane Austen. I’m currently about 110 pages into Mansfield Park. I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure where she’s going with this one yet. But I’m being patient. That’s the upside of reading just ten pages a day. It’s doable, and I’m not skipping stuff just to get to where things start to happen. Both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice got much more readable about 100-200 pages in, so I am hanging in there…

(Any Mansfield Park fans here?)

I was a guest this week on Take Notes with Jen Rafferty. This show is aimed mostly at educators and is about how people can make wise time decisions to get the important stuff done without burning out. Please give it a listen.

I’ve also been listening to and enjoying the Best of Both Worlds episode with Gretchen Rubin this week. (Yep, where I interview her — I listen to my podcasts after the fact to make sure I get the audience experience too!) If you haven’t listened to that episode yet, please check it out.

Now, to create next week’s activity schedule…

16 thoughts on “Friday miscellany: Car trips, bluegrass

  1. I drive solo every year from my house in Southern Westchester to Wolfeboro-ish NH. It is about a 5.5 hour drive. I stop outside of Boston (Usually in Concord or Lexington), stay at a bed and breakfast and spend a few hours paying homage to American Transcendentalism (I think I will see Emerson’s house this year). This breaks the trip into a 3+ hour chunk and a 2+ hour chunk. I really enjoy it. I listen to podcasts mostly and relish being ALONE (something I don’t experience much given my job and my 4 kids). I read and have dinner alone. In NH I pick up 1-2 of my kids from sleep away camp and the ride home is markedly different, but I look forward to by regular solo journey.

    Mansfield Park is my least favorite Jane Austen Novel…I find it to be a bit of a head scratcher…but you still have Emma and Persuasion to go!

    1. @Gillian – sounds like a nice trip! Maybe I should try to identify somewhere fun in the middle for a lunch stop as a way to mentally break up the trip north (southbound will already be split due to the Boston part).

      1. I mostly do this because camp pick up is at 9 am and north of Boston the places to stay are less interesting. This way I do have to be out at 7am to get to 9 am camp pick up but I am usually up early anyway.

  2. I used to drive 7 hours (including stops) solo regularly for work related trips from Canberra to Melbourne in Australia and back so I have some tips! I didn’t mind it.
    First, work out your timing so you miss most of the traffic on both ends, so perhaps that might mean leaving at 6/7am so you get in around 2/3. Added bonus is that then you’ve arrived before the mid-afternoon slump occurs, and you’re not arriving to a new city in the dark.
    Second, I used to use the opportunity to listen to an audiobook or podcast series, can feel luxurious to have that much uninterrupted time. So I’d have your entertainment loaded up before you leave.
    Third, plan a stop every 2 hours or so- since it’s just you driving you’ll need to refresh. Can just be 5 mins bathroom stop and stretch of the legs. And have some decent snacks in the car to keep you going in between breaks.

    1. @Sophie absolutely on the traffic. Much better to leave early. LV’s trip north will involve trying to miss traffic in the NYC and Boston metro areas both potentially terrible!

  3. Mansfield Park is my least favorite of Austen’s 6 novels, because it just lacks the sparkling wit I had come to expect from her. It is interesting, though sad.

  4. I love Mansfield Park and think it is underrated. It attempts to answer a question that was very real to so many women of Jane Austen’s class: how do you maintain your personal integrity when you are allowed no outward agency?

    1. I agree! It’s less funny, and the heroine I think is much less relatable for modern readers than a Lizzie or an Emma or an Eleanor. However, I vividly remember what it’s like to be a young person in a social group you feel out of place in, where everyone seems to overlook you or use you as a prop in their own personal story. I think it’s sweeter and more thoughtful than some of her other novels, and I’ve re-read it frequently over the years

  5. I love solo road trips! I regularly drive the 7 hours from Northern CA to SoCal to see my granddaughter. Best tips: as others mentioned, plan your drive times to avoid commuter traffic. I leave at 6am so I get through LA before 1pm; seriously, anything to avoid rush hour in LA. Also, have you considered a rental car for your road trip? I have an older Honda (13 years old) that is fine around town or shorter trips to the city but my route down south includes rural stretches and a mountain pass. No worries about car issues and there is the tech upside: maps and all your podcasts and audiobooks on a screen at your fingertips!

    1. @Evalyn – I’d be in civilization the entire time, but it would be nice to have maps/podcasts on a dashboard, which my 12-year-old car most definitely does not offer.

  6. During 2020, I listened to all of Shostakovich”s symphonies, quartets and operas. The earliest way to do this was a Spotify subscription; I could pick and choose which performances I wanted to hear. It was definitely easier than ordering CDs from the library (which I tried for an earlier listening project). Apple has a new classical music streaming service but I haven’t sampled it yet.

    I’m a Midwesterner so a solo drive that length sounds doable to me—especially on the east coast, where it would be hard to run out of gas since you’re not many miles from civilization at any point on the route.

    1. @J – oh, I’d be in civilization the entire time – it’s mostly I-95 (though a few other interstates might have less traffic). Definitely no problems finding gas stations! I’m more worried about fatigue/boredom, but I’ll try to stop somewhere interesting for lunch.

      Very cool on the Shostakovich symphonies. There is a ton of Bach, which is why I’d sort of be relying on a compilation for some of it, though I guess the BMV numbers help…

  7. I have a great external power pack for charging my phone. It gives me about 3 full charges before it needs to be recharged itself. It lives in my work bag and has saved me quite a few times (including on flights when I assumed there’d be in-seat usb chargers and there wasn’t and in airports where outlets were few and far between.

  8. I’m super excited about your project to listen to all of Bach! In fact, inspired by your Austen project, I’ve just started (at Easter) a project to listen to all of the Bach cantatas following the liturgical year. Also, thanks to your earlier suggestions, I’ve read War and Peace and Middlemarch over long periods – I can’t thank you enough!

    I wonder if some of your readers might like to join you in the Bach project? It would be a fun thing to do together!

    In terms of recordings, there are a few. The Netherlands Bach society is recording “All of Bach”: It’s not all there yet, but there is a lot. Nikolaus Harnoncourt has recorded the complete works earlier, but some of the recordings feel a bit dated (i.e. very early HIP recordings). There are also similar cycles on the Hännsler and Brilliant labels.

    I’m curious which order you’ll listen in. Grove has a list by BWV. You’ll end with all the cantatas, then all the organ works, then all the violin works, etc. though. If I could, I’d want to listen in order of composition, but this is not always easy to determine. Wikipedia has a list ( – it’s not authoritative but it will be perhaps a useful starting point. The vocal works are probably best listened to in the appropriate season: the Passions, the Easter Oratorio, the Christmas Oratorio, etc. will enliven those times of the year. If your church follows a liturgical cycle, you may well find the readings are the same as in Bach’s time and the cantatas could fit well into that.

    Do let us know how you get on; some of us would love to join you in this journey!

    1. @Francis – ooh, this is very helpful! I’ll have to check out these resources – It seems to me that others must have worked on this and done such a project so maybe I can find what they did, modify, and get a few other folks on board…

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