The Trivia Lovers Guide to the World Review

Trivia Lovers Guide to the World

Has this ever happened to you? You go to the library with the intention of picking up a book or two from your ever-growing list of ‘to read books’. You even look up the call number, so you can get in and out of there in a reasonable amount of time. You walk with purpose to the correct section. Oh no. The pretty graphics and interesting titles have caught your eye. You begin to stray. Before you know it you have five books in your hands and you are spending an hour flipping through them all. This happens to me all the time, but sometimes it helps me find new books that I might never have heard about otherwise. One recent impulse book I picked up was The Trivia Lovers Guide to the World: Geography for the Lost and Found by Gary Fuller. As a trivia lover with pitiful geographic knowledge, I knew I just had to read this book. Plus, one of the recommendations on the back was written by a map librarian at the University of South Carolina, so I had to check it out. Each chapter centered on a theme and was introduced by a short series of trivia questions that were then answered in the discussion that followed. The chapters were short, ten pages max, making this an ideal read before bed or while waiting on something, because you could finish a section in no time. The writing really was very accessible. Confusing vocabulary and obscure references were explained in insets, so I never felt lost while reading. All the time, while I was reading, I would stumble across interesting and surprising facts that I would have to share. For example, did you know that if you drive due south from Detroit you end up in Canada? True Story. I highly recommend this book for anyone with even a passing interest in trivia or geography.



Spring Break: Charlotte Crossing

Wednesday through Sunday of last week, my mother came to visit me. We took a road trip to Charlotte, North Carolina. The beginning of our trip was devoted to shopping. Wednesday we stayed in Columbia and wandered through the shops in Five Points and ate dinner at Yesterday’s. On the way to Charlotte on Thursday, we stopped in Pineville, North Carolina to shop their antique district. It wasn’t very big, but there were a few cute little stores to browse. Plus, Two on Earth Bakery Café was next door, convenient for us to have an afternoon snack.Another attraction in Pineville was the President James K. Polk State Historic Site. Offering a small museum and a time period homestead, the site was pretty interesting. Neither my mother nor I really had any idea who Polk was, other than President at some point, so we learned a lot. Visits to the site are free, so I recommend it to anyone else who is also confused about Polk. The whole tour only took about an hour and the staff was very friendly. Later, we ate dinner at Rusty’s, which had some pretty good sandwiches.

Friday began our adventures in Charlotte. We had planned for our first stop to be the flea market in Pineville, but it turned out to only be open Saturday and Sunday. That was a bit disappointing, but we drove on to visit the Billy Graham Library. Dedicated to Billy Graham’s mission of evangelism, the library told the story of his life through video clips, photographs, and memorabilia. Just in front of the museum, you can visit Billy’s childhood home. It was interesting to see how many powerful world leaders had turned to him for advice over the past decades. I especially enjoyed the section of the library about his wife, Ruth. She grew up in China in the 1920’s and became Billy’s most trusted spiritual advisor. I thought she was fascinating. Tip: Make sure to budget at least two hours to see everything at the Library.


Our bar-b-q tray from Bar-B-Q King.

Afterwards we stopped at Bar-B-Q King, an old-fashioned drive in that served all kinds of bar-b-q sandwiches. The sandwiches were delicious and the hushpuppies were beautiful crunchy balls of steaming carbohydrates. They also had yummy strawberry pie. We found the restaurant through Flavortown USA, a Diners Drive Ins and Dives fansite. Although the official Food Network site offers an interactive map and app to find all of the restaurants that have been featured on their channel, the Flavortown site was easier to print out and take with us. For fans of the show, it was a great resource.

That afternoon the weather was beautiful, so we drive out to the Carolina Raptor Center. The Raptor Center rescues injured birds of prey and attempts to return them to the wild. Not every bird can be returned to the wild, however, so some are permanent residents of the center. Visitors can walk the quarter mile trail outside the center to see all of the birds. The birds were charming. My favorites were the vultures. The hour walking around the center was well spent.Image

For dinner we went to another Diners Drive Ins and Dives recommendation, Dish. A typical southern restaurant, where your entrée comes with your choice of vegetable, a biscuit and a deviled egg, the food was homemade and delicious. I had the chicken and dumplings, which would have warmed me up on even the coldest night. For dessert we split a slice of vanilla bourbon sweet potato pie. Talk about a new twist on a classic. We had to resist licking the plate.


An original Wells Fargo Stagecoach

An original Wells Fargo Stagecoach

We had reserved Saturday for exploring Uptown Charlotte. Saturday also happened to be the City of Charlotte’s big St. Patrick’s Day celebration. While it made parking and driving a nightmare, this did mean that there was plenty to see as we walked around and all of the museums we went to were empty, so overall, not that bad. First we went to the Wells Fargo Museum. Although small, this museum was very interactive. While learning about the history of the Wells Fargo Company you could get your picture taken in front of an original stagecoach, put your face on money, and ride in a replica stagecoach. There were lots of hands-on exhibits, my favorite kind. We easily spent almost an hour there.

The Allure of Flowers exhibit at the Mint Museum

The Allure of Flowers exhibit at the Mint Museum

Just across the street was the Mint Museum Uptown, a modern art museum. In addition to a permanent gallery of American and European art, they had a special exhibit on flowers and a gallery of contemporary art. The Allure of Flowers exhibit featured everything from ceramics to textiles to performance art. The art was flowery and beautiful. The craft + design gallery was divided up by material: wood, clay, fiber, etc., and featured some works commissioned just for the museum. Some of the exhibits pushed the boundaries of what is commonly thought of as art, like a Dyson vacuum cleaner, but I think it helped expand our worldview a little. After spending all morning and into the afternoon uptown, we were starving. The last stop on our Diners Drive Ins and Dives tour was Landmark Diner. Run by a Greek family, and famous for offering a wide selection of food at all hours of the day and night, this restaurant did not disappoint. I had an appetizer portion of their famous Spanakopita and we ordered a giant slice of pineapple coconut cake. It was quite tasty. Before driving back to Columbia, we drove around NoDa, or North Davidson Street, Charlotte’s arts district. We poked around the cool art galleries and shops, but then it was time to hit the road. By the time we got back to Columbia it was pretty late, so we ordered Chinese food and watched girly TV shows in our pajamas. Not a bad end to break, if I do say so myself.

pineapple cocoanut cake

pineapple coconut cake

It has taken me too long to get out to explore Charlotte. There were lots of exciting things to do, and we didn’t get to see all of them. Next time the first thing on my to do list is to visit the other location of the Mint Museum on Randolph Road, located in the original US Mint building. Have any of you visited Charlotte, and what is your favorite thing there?

Spring Break: Asheville Adventures

This past week was spring break: one whole, glorious week with no classes and time to travel. My spring break was broken neatly in two parts. Saturday through Tuesday I took a road trip with my friend Talior to Asheville, North Carolina. Our trip to Asheville was the first time I’d ever been on a road trip without any of my family. I was so excited to go exploring all on our own. Saturday we hit the road late in the morning and stopped at Beacon Drive-In near Spartanburg for lunch. It had been featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives, so my expectations were pretty high. No longer a drive in, there was a long counter where your order was shouted back to the kitchen and appeared at the end. I had a delightfully greasy cheeseburger and shared some of Talior’s “a plenty”. The plates at Beacon are served “a plenty” piled high with fries and greasy, yummy onion rings. We got back on the road and headed to Asheville. That night the Asheville Community Theater was showing [title of show], so we decided to spend an evening at the theater. I knew generally that the show centered around the true story of the creators writing a show about them writing a show for the New York Musical Theater Festival, but I was blown away by how much fun it was. Earnest, funny, and inspiring, a very talented cast delivered on everything I wanted in a show.

Burger from BeaconThe playbill

The front door of the Biltmore. It was huge. That tiny person is me.

The front door of the Biltmore. It was huge. That tiny person is me.

We spent most of Sunday exploring the Biltmore Estate. That was the highlight of the trip for me. I loved seeing all of the amazing artwork and architecture of the mansion, as well as hearing the fascinating stories of the family that lived there. They were offering an off-season special, and giving out audio guides free with admission. Usually I skip the audio guide, but this time I was so glad I did not. It offered an in-depth look at each room that would have been missing had we just walked through. My favorite room was the two-story library, with Mr. Vanderbilt’s personal collection of over 100,000 books. The indoor pool was also fascinating. We did not spend much time on the grounds since all of the plants were still brown and dead from the harsh winter. I hope some day I can come back when the flowers are blooming and the trees are green. Tip: Tickets can be a bit pricy, but are cheaper if you buy them online at least a week in advance.

That afternoon we spent some time wandering around and shopping downtown before grabbing an early dinner at Tupelo Honey Café. Another Food Network recommendation, the food was outstanding. I had a “breakfast pie” with “southern popcorn” (otherwise know as a quiche with fried okra) and Talior had Brian’s famous shrimp and grits. I enjoyed my dinner very much, but Talior was in raptures about hers. As a native South Carolinian, I don’t take it lightly that she declared it the best shrimp and grits she had ever had. For dessert I treated myself to what I thought would be a slice of blueberry cream cheese pie, but was actually a whole personal pie enough for two people.Tip: The Shoo Mercy version is so much more expensive because it comes with twice as many shrimp, but for a small fee you can get the extra fixings without the extra shrimp.

.Tupelo Honey DinnerTupelo Honey Dessert

View of the Blue Ridge Mountains

View of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Monday was spent mostly up in the mountains. In the morning we took a lovely, relaxing trail ride at Sandy Bottom Trail Rides. It was nice to get away from civilization and just enjoy the rolling hillsides and beautiful mountaintops of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Back downtown we had lunch at the old Woolworths buil

ding, which had been converted into an art gallery, but the lunch counter was still there. They had lots of classic yummy sandwiches and ice cream. We then drove almost an hour up another mountain to Cherokee, North Carolina to visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. I knew woefully little about the Cherokee Nation, and enjoyed learning about their legends, development, and history. For me, it was worth the driv

e, plus the views were beautiful. Later, we stopped in for a late dinner back in Asheville at Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack. Famous for their XX hot wings, we both stuck with pretty mild flavors. The next morning we drove back to Columbia.

Soda Fountain Fried Bologna Sundae Museum of the Cherokee Indian Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack

Asheville was a fun place to visit, and I hope to go back someday. Next time, I plan to go when the flowers are in bloom to re-visit the Biltmore grounds, as well as tour the North Carolina Arboretum. I would also like to see St. Lawrence’s Basilica, which I heard is lovely on the inside, and go the Asheville Art Museum.

Next week I’ll post about the rest of my spring break adventures: visiting Charlotte with my mother.

Pimento Cheese Spread

Looking though my great-grandmother, Beatrice Howell’s, recipe box the other day, my mother and I found a really old recipe for homemade pimento cheese. Naturally, we had to try it out. My great-grandmother’s handwriting was famously illegible, as you can tell, but my mother figured it out.


We ran to the store to collect the ingredients. The first step was to melt a block of cheese. This proved harder than expected, even after we cut it up. We were thinking that melted cheddar should be gooey, but realized that the recipe needed our cheese to be liquidly.  Not until after we had added in the liquid mixture and then proceeded to try to drain it out, though. More time in the microwave seemed to fix the problem. We could have easily started with the same amount of shredded cheddar, which might have been easier to melt, but it was too late. Other than that, we just stirred the ingredients together.


When we were done it was really runny, so we let it set up in the refrigerator for a few hours. Afterwards it had the thicker texture that you expect from pimento cheese spread. It was still a bit chunky from where we hadn’t melted the cheese right, but it tasted fine. You could definitely taste the vinegar in this recipe, and we never added the extra salt, so your version might be a bit different than ours. It was great to make something straight fro my great-grandmother’s time, like a taste from the past.


Here is the recipe, exactly how my great-grandmother wrote it:

From the kitchen of Bee McMurtrey

1 lb cheese (cut in small pieces and melted) although shredded would work

1 egg

¼ cup vinegar

1 small can of evaporated milk (small can is 5 oz.)

Mix last 4 ingredients then add to melted cheese.

Then last of all stir in one small jar of pimentos, not drained.

We found this delicious, she brought recipe from Oklahoma.


Rolling in the Aisles

Despite a week filled with midterm preparations, I managed to fit in time to see two of the plays being presented at USC. I saw Swimming in the Shallows at the Center for Performance Experiment and The 39 Steps at Longstreet Theater. While technically very different plays, they were both full of mad-cap action and were side-splittingly funny.


Swimming in the Shallows, written by Adam Bock and guest directed by Scott Gigure, followed the lives of five friends through their crazy ups and downs in tiny, magical, Twig, Rhode Island, a place where sharks can talk. If that doesn’t sound like a good time, I don’t know what does. The script was funny, but the actors were definitely what brought it to life. With minimal set or costumes they managed to create a complex and interesting world of love and Buddhist monks. Described as “a delightful invitation into a theatrical world of magical realism”, it struck a great balance between emotional connection with the characters and crazy, magical elements. Plus plenty of laughs thrown into the mix.


 Although The 39 Steps had a similar energy, the plot line was very different. Adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow from the Alfred Hitchcock movie and John Buchan book, and co-directed by Jim Helsinger and Brad DePlanche, the show utilizes only four very talented and dedicated actors to bring to life a story of mystery and intrigue. Set just before World War II, spies, national secrets, and murder are given a huge comedic twist. I have nothing but admiration for all of the actors, directors, and designers involved, because the comedy in this show was flawless. One thing that I thought was brilliant was putting the entire set (door, armchair, table, etc.) on wheels. The opening involved the main character walking through a door and an open window as they rolled by, setting the stage for the rest of the show. I also would like to give a shout out to my friend, Ashley Pittman, who designed the lighting. She accomplished the difficult task of creating a lighting design that both practically and artistically facilitates the story. While more plot based than Swimming in the Shallows, I was constantly on the edge of my seat, either to see what would happen next, or overtaken with laughter. August Krickel of the Free Times has a more in-depth review here:


In the end, I cannot congratulate the casts and crews of both of these shows enough. All of their hard work paid off in what were two of the best nights I have had at the theater in a while.