Why is it that we say the phrase “last night” when referring to events that happened the previous night, but we don’t say things like “last afternoon”. Instead it’s always “yesterday morning” and “yesterday afternoon” and “yesterday evening” but never “yesterday night”. Similarly it’s always “last night” not “last morning”, “last afternoon”, or “last evening”.

Is it some uniqueness about the term “night” spanning a timeframe set over two days (say 9pm to 4am)? [An aside: are there commonly-accepted timeframes for those periods? 4am-noon = morning, noon-6pm = afternoon, 6pm-9pm = evening?]. Or is it that “night” doesn’t belong at all in the set of [morning, afternoon, evening] but instead belongs in the set [night, day] which somehow spans the first set? The latter seems to make more sense which is why “yesterday night” sounds to totally foreign. Perhaps “yesternight” is more a more appropriate term.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

After being out here in Raleigh, NC and running around Lake Johnson whose greenway trail goes right through the surrounding woods I’ve decided that individuals who have grown up on the Great Plains have no concept that woods can be “dark and deep”.

On the plains the highest tree is, at most 10 feet tall and its nearest neighbor is a good 15 feet away. There’s no dense woods, no blocking of the sun, so thus it’s impossible to get lost among them and thus there’s nothing even remotely menacing about them. This explains why growing up I could never grok stories of people getting lost in the woods or really comprehend what’s so scary about a mystery set in the woods. Even down in the Texas hill country the trees are neither overly tall or particularly dense. After being here and seeing the amazingly tall trees so tightly packed together I have a much better appreciation for both their beauty and their potential to sow confusion for an unprepared soul.

Given this, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the ghost stories told at camps held on the plains are significantly different and possibly less menacing than those held in the woods of North Carolina.

And because you know you want to go read it now that it’s stuck in your head, here’s a link to the Robert Frost poem: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Gluten allergy: inconclusive

Due to my lactose intolerance, I attempted to go gluten-free the last week of April and the first week of May. I opted out of anything containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley) but was unable to rid my diet of oats. Oats themselves do not contain gluten but they are often cross-contaminated with wheat.

Overall the experience wasn’t that bad. Eating at home was of course the easiest. Instead of pastas we focused on rices. I had granola cereal for breakfast instead of my whole-wheat-based fiber-rich mix. Instead of a bread sandwich I’d have the meat and cheese in a lettuce wrap.

Eating out wasn’t even all that challenging if you picked the right places. Mexican restaurants are your friend — corn tortilla chips are a-ok as are enchiladas and other items made with corn, but not flour, tortillas. Italian restaurants are your enemy — pastas, breads, even potato gnocchi, all contain wheat flour which contains gluten. On the plus side risotto is gluten free as are most salads so even dinner at Macaroni Grill was doable. Sandwich, pizza places, and other fast-food restaurants are right out.

During those two weeks I felt good, but not so good as to indicate that it was the gluten as compared to the wonderful spring weather that finally descended upon Denver.

My trip to Raleigh this week proved to be the end of the experiment. It’s nigh impossible to maintain a gluten-free diet as well as make a good first social impression on your coworkers without looking like a food freak. I’m sure it would have been different were I to know for sure that I can’t have gluten but it’s quite another to say “sorry, we can’t go to a pizza place, or a sandwich place, or a fast-food place for lunch because I’m doing an experiment to see if I’m allergic to gluten”. So Monday at lunch broke my gluten-free streak. I’ve tried to keep the gluten to a minimum but I’ve certainly been unable to avoid it altogether (a sandwich on Monday for lunch, pizza Tuesday for lunch, sandwich on Wednesday for lunch, pizza today for lunch (and no, there’s not a planned pattern here)).

So how do I feel? Overall I feel fine. Unlike the previous two weeks I did have some gastrointestinal challenges on Tuesday morning after my bowl of cereal but I didn’t have any problems on Monday, Wednesday, or today after the same bowl of cereal. No problems post-pizza on Tuesday or today. Unfortunately I think the experiment was inconclusive. The scientist in me is concerned about there being too many variables, not a good sample size, and the lack of a control group to conclude anything else — particularly given the lack of any dramatic result.

So from here on out I’ll probably continue to lean toward gluten-free or gluten-minimal options (there’s really more than you realize, yay for Mexican food!) but not avoid them altogether.

Lactose: tolerance is the mutation

Humans are the only animal that continue to drink milk beyond their infancy (they’re also the only animal that regularly drink milk produced from another animal too, but that’s out of scope of this post). The ability for humans to do this is courtesy of a genetic mutation that has evolved in different herding communities (Europeans, East Africans, and Saudi Arabians) throughput history. Contrary to popular American belief, lactose tolerance is the exception, not the rule, around the world. [See: From Atoms to Traits, Scientific American, January 2009, pg 52; and Evolution of Evolution].

I, however, am of mostly European descent and that the rest of my immediate family retains their lactose tolerance suggests that I too should have retained mine outside of infancy. My lactose tolerance was going strong up until about four or five years ago. Since then I’ve been able to handle milk products in small amounts (milk on my cereal, small glass with cookies, moderate amounts of cheeses) but larger amounts (any amount of ice cream and heaven forbid a bite or two of cheesecake) results in extreme agony unless I pop a lactase (the enzyme needed to break down lactose) pill prior to the consumption.

This inconvenience is just that, an inconvenience. With adequate forethought and preparedness I’m still able to have that scoop of Rocky Road ice cream for dessert.

What’s puzzled me though is why the onset of lactose intolerance occurred at all. It is true that lactose tolerance can dwindle as one ages due to the body’s declining production of lactase — or in other words I’m just getting old. The onset of lactose intolerance after a time when one had a tolerance is also a result of celiac disease – which is an intolerance for gluten: the body’s reaction to gluten results in an inability to break down lactose. Because of this outside possibility I’ve been on a gluten-free diet for the past 1.5 weeks to give it a go.

More details on my gluten-free experience will be forthcoming (the details were originally destined for this post but I kept backtracking to give enough background that we got stuck on lactose instead :).

Waxing poetic about an old bookstore

I stumbled upon a reference to the Park Hill Community Bookstore in a neighborhood rag we get once a month. The Bookstore is a non-profit organization that has been around for over 30 years. They have only one paid employee (the manager), the rest of their staff are volunteers.

Benjamin and I dropped by over the weekend to check it out. It’s only 3 miles from our house in the cozy neighborhood of Park Hill. They have a wide selection of used books, enough to keep me busy for a while. The best part: used paperbacks are only $2 and hardbacks are $4! Moreover, this month they are having a 2-for-1 sale on their Science Fiction/Fantasy and Mysteries. You can’t buy a new paperback these days for less than $6-8, much less 6 or 8 books for the same price!

Unfortunately while checking out with my 4 new gently-used jewels I discovered that I had only $2 in cash and that their minimum credit card purchase was $10 (a fact I totally understand given the credit card merchant fees). Rather than going and finding another 6 books to take home I opted to purchase a family membership for $20. With a membership you get an additional 7.72% off your purchases plus some other goodies. Also with a membership you get “book credits” — which after being explained to me make the membership essentially free.

For each dollar you purchase for a membership, you get half a book credit good for a $2 book (ie: a single trade paperback). So for our $20 family membership we received 10 book credits, two of which went to pay for the 4 books (2-for-1 remember). I can walk back in at any time and spend the remaining 8 book credits without pulling out my wallet — a very good thing considering how little cash I carry. You can also drop off your used books and instead of cash they give you book credits.

After learning how good the bookstore is for the purchaser – I can’t believe they’re still in business, much less for 30 years! Rest assured I’m going to be telling everyone I know about this little gem!

Park Hill Community Bookstore
4620 E. 23rd Ave
Denver CO 80207