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Nothing like a little billy goat to calm a nervous racehorse

Presidents' Day. DuPont patents nylon, 1937.

Feb. 17, Tuesday - Winter's back breaks. Geronimo died, 1909.Feb. 18, Wednesday - Kim Novak born, 1933. Elm Farm Ollie became first cow to fly in an airplane, 1930.

Feb. 19, Thursday - Last Quarter Moon. Fog in February, frost in May. Ohio admitted to Union as first slave-free state, 1803.

Feb. 20, Friday - John Glenn became first American to orbit Earth, 1962.

Feb. 21, Saturday - W.H. Auden born, 1907. First phone directory, Connecticutt, 1878.

Feb. 22, Sunday - Moon runs low. Watch for Venus in the east, morning sky. Father of our country, George Washington, born, 1732.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: As a prospective goat-owner, I'm wondering why "to get your goat" means to annoy someone.

- M.S., Hayward, Wis.

Answer: The phrase comes from the horse stables, oddly, especially the stables of racehorses. It turns out that very highly bred racehorses can be kind of skittish, as you might imagine, and the practice of putting a goat into the stall of a nervous horse came to be recognized as an effective way of soothing and calming the horse. (Do you suppose they tried sheep, first?) The goat befriended the horse and set a quieter tone; probably its small size would also discourage much flailing around, if the horse was sensible of the goat's continued well-being. Because the races were sometimes of high stakes, however, some clever opponents who lacked the proper attitude of sportsmanship and honesty might connive to "get the goat" or remove the calming influence from the other horse's stall, just before a race. If that happened, the horse was apt to be more skittish than ever and might lose the race on account of its jittery nerves. The other racehorse owner, then, would have successfully gotten the goat and, possibly, won the race.

Since you're contemplating the goat business, we'll assume you know other goat lingo - like buck, billie or he-goat for the male goat and nanny or she-goat for the female, and of course, the kid. But did you know that a herd or flock of goats is also called a tribe or trip?

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: Some time ago, you printed a piece on what promotes longevity. Can you recall it?

- L.P., Fort Wayne, Texas

Answer: Sure, it was about whether there's a link between longevity and a person's productivity. It's not unlike the old question of the chicken and the egg. If someone lives a long time, they're more apt to accomplish a great deal, right? But maybe if they're leading an accomplished life, they'll live longer, too. (Not always, unfortunately.) Benjamin Franklin listed "Thirteen Virtues" that he believed would lead to a long and healthy life. The sixth one was industry. "Lose no time . . . ." he advised. "Work as if you were to live a hundred years." (He lived to be 84.)

Some experts claim enthusiasm for life to be the great divider between those who die young or old. At a time when the average life expectancy in the Colonies was about age 35, the first 10 presidents averaged over 77 years old at the times of their death. Was it industry? Enthusiasm? Living high off the hog?

Married partners are said to live longer than single people, on average, unless their marriage is an unusually contentious one. Genes have some influence, so if your ancestors were long-lived, your chances are better.

Rural-dwellers do better than city-dwellers. Poverty or wealth decrease your chances, in roughly equal measure. Exercise, a low-fat, low-salt, low-sweet diet, and non-smoking all increase your chances. Regular check-ups help. Dentistry helps. An easygoing personality has a better chance than a "type-A," driven one.

George Santayana (1863-1952) had the best attitude, in our view. He said, "There is no cure for birth or death save to enjoy the interval." And he lived a good long time, so maybe there's a good argument for enthusiasm.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: What's the connection between early music training and math ability in children?

- K.V., Bristol, R.I.

Answer: It's an emerging argument, this bit of early child development, but research seems to suggest that music is learned, much like language, with the critical period for internalizing that development being in the first few years of life, even before a child reaches kindergarten age. Many scientists believe that early music training (and some would say, the reading of poetry, as well) prepares and enriches the brain for other, higher forms of learning.

Studies performed where children have received music training, and then been tested in puzzle-solving and other spatial intelligence, suggest a strong link between the two, with up to 80 percent higher scores going to those children who have had the music lessons. Piano lessons, singing in a chorus, chanting, reciting and other music skills seem to increase the ability to visualize the world accurately, a skill that leads to greater ability with math and engineering tasks, later on. Listening skills, movement to music, memorization, and other abilities are also improved in the process.

Parents may worry that if a child is not exposed to music early on, they will miss important developmental steps. While an early exposure to music certainly enhances brain patterning and excites other abilities, music can be taken up at any age, with good results. The message is not to push your child into something they may not want, but rather to expose them to a variety of sights, sounds, and opportunities, throughout their lives.

Children can make music with simple percussion instruments in a classroom or on a keyboard. The radio offers a chance for children to learn to identify various musical instruments, while in the car or at home, and any parent can start a child off learning to sing and drum and dance to various rhythms.

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Additional Information

This Week with The Old Farmer's Almanac

February 16-22, 1998

Presidents Day, Feb. 16.

Faithful in February

February's flower, the violet, is a symbol of faithfulness, modesty, and simplicity. Used medicinally over the centuries as a mouthwash and for congestive pulmonary conditions, sweet violet (viola odorata) is both an expectorant and a diuretic. Folklore lists it among the powerful forces against evil, which is perhaps why the Greek city of Athens considered the violet its toke flower. the French came to associate it with Napoleon, because of the violet's persistent return in the spring. For years after 1814, the French government banned any symbolic use of the flower for just that reason.

What is charm It is what the violet has and the camellia has not.

- Francis Marion Crawford

Tip of the Week

To minimize fat at fast-food restaurants, choose the grilled chicken sandwiches over the beef.

Marlborough Pudding

3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup white wine or grape juice

6 tablespoons melted butter

4 eggs, beaten well

juice and grated rind of 1 lemon

1 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Combine applesauce, sugar wine, and melted butter. Stir in eggs, lemon juice, rind, and milk. Pour into buttered 1-quart baking dish, grate nutmeg over pudding, and bake at 350 degrees F until firm. Serve warm with maple syrup.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

The Old Farmer's Weather Proverbs

The weather on the night of St. Peter's Day (Feb. 22) fortells the weather for the next 40 days.

Whitecaps on a pond or river mean that it is going to rain.

Introducing The Old Farmer's Almanac Home Library series from Time-Life Books. Flower Gardening Secrets, Blue Ribbon Recipes, Home Wisdom, and Traditional Home Remedies; $12.95 each. Available wherever books are sold, or call 800-277-8844.