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Preening may be a sign your cat is embarrassed

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Nov. 17, Monday - Suez Canal opened, 1869. Rock Hudson born, 1925.

Nov. 18, Tuesday - St. Hilda. Louis Daguerre born, 1789. Ubs Iwerks first drew Mickey Mouse, 1928.Nov. 19, Wednesday - Ford Motor Co. discontinued Edsel, 1959. Indira Gandhi born, 1917. Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg, 1863.

Nov. 20, Thursday - Robert F. Kennedy born, 1925. Alistair Cooke born, 1908.

Nov. 21, Friday - Mayflower Compact signed, 1620. We are not punished for our sins, but by them. Stan Musial born, 1920.

Nov. 22, Saturday - St. Cecilia. Pres. J.F. Kennedy assassinated, 1963. Billie Jean King born, 1943.

Nov. 23, Sunday - Billy the Kid born 1859. Moon at apogee.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: My wife insists our cat shows embarrassment by preening itself. Is there anything to that idea?

- C.E.M., St. Louis

Answer: Absolutely. Embarrassment isn't the only reason cats preen, but it's definitely one of them. Some vets and cat psychologists call it "displacement grooming," the idea being that the cat transfers its emotions into an alternative behavior, much as a child might twirl her hair or suck his thumb when anxious.

Some cats will do the same thing if there's a thunderstorm or other intense storm system that upsets them. Often you'll see a young cat try to make a long jump, say onto your kitchen countertop, and miss, then immediately start grooming himself, as if he'd never intended to jump in the first place. If anyone's watching, he'll avoid eye contact, as well.

Cats have many telltale behaviors that signal their emotions. Purring, meowing for food or to go out, or lashing the tail in anger are just some of the more obvious ones. Frequently, cats devote themselves primarily to one person in a family, usually the one who spends the most positive time with them, patting and feeding them. Others, however well-meaning, may be relatively ignored, or even rudely rebuffed. A kitten that grows up without much attention at all may seem to ignore everyone, establishing no relationship at all in a household. If your wife has been the primary caretaker of cats right along, it's not surprising she knows their signals and you do not, for you may not be party to as many of them. Don't take it personally; it's more a matter of feline monogamy.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: I know the Old Farmer's Almanac is a big believer in white vinegar, but can I use it to clean my computer screen?

- A.W., Henderson, Nev.

Answer: You didn't really think we'd say no, did you? Sure, vinegar is still a good all-purpose liquid cleaner, even for computers, but dilute it a bit with water (up to 50 per cent) and spray or dip your rag, rather than applying it directly to the screen or keyboard. Avoid using alcohol of any kind, which can remove the coating on the screen. Vinegar, Windex or even ammonia - although that's pretty strong stuff, for screens, but good for really grimy keyboards - can be used, as an alternative.

We've also had questions about the radiation from computer monitors, a controversy that continues without any hard facts to support or dispute it one way or another. We can say that notebook-type or laptop computers that use the liquid crystal displays (LCD) do not emit the "extremely low frequency" (ELF) radiation in question, and monochrome monitors have a much lower incidence of it than color monitors. Also, the greatest danger from ELF radiation seems to come from the back and sides of computers, rather than the front, so if you are working alone in an office setting, without other computers to either side of you, you are at less risk than someone working in a line of computers or across the aisle from another work station.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: Our water pipes occasionally make an incredible harmonic sound that takes over the entire household, just after running the cold water - sometimes. What's the matter?

- M.W., Colchester, Vt.

Answer: Old houses, new houses, it doesn't seem to matter. Hot water radiators or even regular water pipes in a household can knock or hum like a subway coming in, under just the right conditions. Usually, it happens when the water is shut off abruptly, causing water pressure to build up suddenly. If the pipes have some leeway in their fittings, they may actually knock against the wall or a surrounding casing. Even if they're solidly anchored, the interior harmonics can be deafening. Some plumbers call it a "water-hammer effect," others speak of harmonics, but there seems to be no convergence of opinions on how to stop it.

Part of the mystery is that it can be difficult to isolate the cause. If a particular tap or toilet is always the culprit in setting it off, you're lucky. Start there, and install a foot-long, copper device called a shock arrester. If that doesn't work, or if the sound of subways coming through your bathroom doesn't bother you that much, you can simply try remembering to turn off the water more slowly. You'll inevitably forget, so when the noise starts up, you can race back to turn the tap on again, then off very gently as you quietly seethe at your plumber. Sooner or later, it'll either drive you nuts - or you'll get used to it. If your plumber is an ace, or persistent, he'll eventually fix it. Don't pay him by the hour for this one, though.


Additional Information

This Week with The Old Farmer's Almanac

November 17-23, 1997

Moon Rides High, Nov. 17.

For the Birds

As the weather turns colder, look to your bird feeders and invite your feathered friends to winter over in your yard. Any simple construction of a flat surface, possibly lipped at the edges to prevent spillage and allow a suitable perch, will suffice. A simple roof keeps the weather off. If you have cats, place the feeder high enough to be out of reach. There are various window varieties that attach with suction cups. Offer a wide range of seeds, nuts, grains, and fat, but do not allow sodden bread or weather-soaked feed, which will be lacking in nutrients and could harm the birds' stomachs.

A bird is known by his feathers.

- Yiddish proverb

Tip of the Week

Keep a field guide (birds, wildflowers, etc.) next to your computer or phone and consult it while you're waiting.


4 to 5 tablespoons peanut butter

juice of 1 lemon

3 teaspoons soy sauce

3 teaspoons peanut oil (optional)

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

1 tablespoon water

1 scant cup finely chopped cucumbers, scallions, peppers, or carrots or a mixture (optional)

4 to 5 cups cooked spaghetti noodles

Whisk together the first six ingredients in a bowl, or whirl in a blender. Add any combination of the chopped vegetables, if desired, keeping the total quantity of vegetables less than a cup. Pour over the cooked noodles and mix well to distribute sauce evenly. Serve cold. (Great for kids' lunch boxes!)

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

The Old Farmer's Weather Proverbs

Thunder in November, a fertile year to come.

If there's ice in November that will bear a duck, there'll be nothing thereafter but sleet and muck.

A heavy November snow will last until April.

Cats remaining indoors, devoid of vivacity, forecast wet or windy weather.