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How to pick vacuum cleaner? Power, maneuverability key

March 19, Monday — Feast of St. Joseph. Swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

March 20, Tuesday — Vernal Equinox at 8:31 a.m. EST. Conjunction of Neptune and the moon. He who is shipwrecked the second time cannot lay the blame on Neptune.

March 21, Wednesday — Rocking-chair marathons were the rage in Quebec, Canada, 1955.

March 22, Thursday — Conjunction of Mercury and the moon. First women's basketball game, 1893.

March 23, Friday — "Messiah" first performed in London, 1743. Patrick Henry's "Liberty or death" speech, 1775.

March 24, Saturday — New moon. Exxon Valdez ran aground, spilling 11 million gallons of oil, 1989.

March 25, Sunday — Fourth Sunday in Lent. Moon on the Equator. Clear today means a fertile year.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Can you lend any advice about the purchase of a new vacuum cleaner? Which type has the best suction? — F.E., Miami, Fla.

Answer: If suction were the only consideration, you might do best to buy the biggest canister cleaner on the market. While bulky to drag around and difficult to manipulate on stairs, the big canisters tend to be the most powerful, simply because they have the space for a bigger motor. In addition, they have the advantage of operating relatively cleanly, because only air moves past the fan and motor. The dirt picked up is dropped into the canister before it ever comes near the fan or motor, unlike an upright, which depends on air pores in the dust bag.

Upright cleaners are generally chosen for large hotels, office spaces and other work environments where the hallways are long and the furniture sparse. Some households use them as well, but may choose to employ them in tandem with a second, smaller vacuum or Dustbuster-style machine for finer work such as drapes or upholstery. The uprights tend to work best on carpet, where the revolving bristles of the spinning beaters can pick up dirt. The disadvantage of the uprights is that they can be difficult to maneuver under sofas, beds or other low furniture, and they may be heavy or bulky for easy access to stairs.

The third type to consider is a tank cleaner with a low, narrow canister. Like the bigger canister models, it also operates cleanly, letting the airflow bypass the dustbag. The tank cleaner is essentially a streamlined canister designed for easier movement and greater finesse on stairs. For this reason, it tends to be the household vacuum of choice, but not everyone agrees with that assessment. Happy spring cleaning!

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: What is it about those swallows at San Juan Capistrano? — M.J., Hartford, Conn.

Answer: The legend is that the swallows always appear on St. Joseph's Day, March 19th, right around the time of the Vernal Equinox (which can vary from the 19th to the 22nd of March, depending on the year). The birds are preceded by a few "scouts" who fly north to the old mission chapel a few days ahead of the rest of the flock. The majority of the birds arrive somewhere around the 19th — some before, some after — depending mostly on local weather conditions and food supplies. But March 19 is the day the tourists come to look for them, and there are always some swallows to be found by then and more flying back to the beautiful old stone arches of the two-story, high-vaulted chapel that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. Now without its roof, the old stone mission makes a scenic pilgrimage for tourists and an excellent nesting site for the swallows.

In the days immediately following St. Joseph's Day, the community of San Juan Capistrano presents its "Fiesta de las Golondrinas," or Swallows Day Parade, described by some as the largest nonmotorized parade in the nation. Most of the tourists go home within a few days, but the birds stay until about October 23, the Day of San Juan, when they begin their annual travels southward once again to warmer climates.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: When the moon is new, is it waxing or waning? — J.P.L., Boca Raton, Fla.

Answer: Both the new moon and the first-quarter moon are waxing phases, when the moon appears larger and larger each day until it is full again. Waxing phases are regarded as wet and fertile. Also known as "the light of the Moon," the waxing phases are considered particularly appropriate for planting above-ground crops. Old-timers used to say that dying tends to occur during the waning phases or occurs more peacefully then, while the waxing phases aid in gaining health and strength. Childbirth is also believed by some to be easier now, in a waxing phase. If you must change residences, a waxing moon is considered more propitious, as is an incoming tide and a wind at your back.

Consult The Old Farmer's Almanac Outdoor Planting Tables for the best times to plant by the moon. Flowers and vegetables that bear crops above ground are best planted during the light of the moon, for example, while flower bulbs (daffodils, tulips) and root vegetables (carrots, beets, etc.) are best planted during the dark of the moon, in the waning phases. The Old Farmer's Almanac Astrological Timetable for 2001 can also be consulted for month-by-month moon signs and favorable times for everything from giving up smoking (March 20 and 21 are good times to commence this month) to cutting your hair (March 27 or 28 if you want to encourage its growth, or March 22 or 23 if you want to discourage it).


Send your questions to: Ask the Almanac, The Old Farmer's Almanac, Main St., Dublin, NH 03444. Web site: www.almanac.com © Yankee Publishing Inc.