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Soundproofing is easy on ears

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Sept. 10, Monday — Occultation (eclipse of a star or planet) of Saturn by the moon. Admission Day (California).

Sept. 11, Tuesday — Propitious day for reaping. New York Yankees drew 11 walks in the third inning, 1949.

Sept. 12, Wednesday — Occultation of Jupiter and the moon. John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier married, 1953.

Sept. 13, Thursday — Graft or pollinate now. Plant below-ground crops. First rhinoceros in United States exhibited, 1826.

Sept. 14, Friday — Holy Cross. Beginning of the Byzantine year 7510. Propitious day to quit smoking.

Sept. 15, Saturday — Conjunction of Venus and the moon. Stonewall Jackson captured Harper's Ferry, W.Va., 1862.

Sept. 16, Sunday — Moon at perigee (closest to Earth). Actress Lauren Bacall born, 1924. Musician B.B. King born, 1925.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: As a "country mouse" temporarily living in the city, I'd like some ideas about soundproofing my apartment. — R.E., New York City, N.Y.

Answer: "Silence is golden," especially once it's gone. Noise affects us all, sometimes even contributing to hearing loss later in life. In densely populated areas, it's nearly impossible to control it.

Because you don't own the apartment, structural changes, such as better insulation in the floors, walls and ceilings, may not be practical. However, there are ways you can approximate some of these noise-muffling effects. Wall tapestries, rugs or carpeting (the thicker the better), and even drapes and curtains, can help quite a lot. Invest in a good under-pad for your carpet; it will deaden sound and prolong the life of the carpet.

The same techniques you'd use to insulate against drafts also work against unwanted sound. Check the seals around your doors and windows to see whether further caulking might be helpful. Caulk along baseboards, around plumbing fixtures or light fixtures and check to see whether light switches, electrical outlet boxes and other inter-wall installations have been sealed with urethane foam or other insulation.

If some of the sounds pestering you are coming from within the apartment, there may be steps you can take. A humming refrigerator, for example, sometimes makes less noise if pulled slightly away from the wall. Try to identify what is making the noise.

Is your dryer exhaust letting in too much outside noise? You could consider plugging the vent when you are not using the dryer (and leave yourself a reminder to be sure to remove the blockage before you use it). Air conditioners, washing machines and other appliances should be mounted on vibration-deadening material such as rubber.

For those city noisemakers that can't be helped —garbage trucks, sirens, car horns and blaring car stereos —try a white-noise machine or soft music playing on a radio to help cover the din. As a last resort, there are always earplugs!

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Is the castor bean used in Ethiopian jewelry the same bean that produces castor oil? — M.P., Madison, Wis.

Answer: One and the same, yes. Ricinis communis is native to Asia and the Ethiopian region of East Africa, but it has also taken root in this country. It can grow to the size of a small tree in tropical climates. Castor beans have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 4000 B.C., and it is speculated that they were a source of lamp oil and had other important uses.

The castor bean or seed has been utilized for many things, including both home remedies and jewelry making. Sometimes called "tickseed" because of its resemblance to a blood-engorged tick, the intricately patterned castor beans are both beautiful and deadly. Children in the Southwestern United States, where the plant grows as a weed, are taught to recognize the plant and its poisonous seed.

Many people remember with disgust their mother's insistence on fighting almost any illness with a teaspoonful of castor oil. (Cod liver oil has similar associations.) If a child swallowed a small object such as a penny or a deflated balloon, they were often made to take a dose of castor oil as a means of passing it.

Likewise, castor oil was considered deadly to worms, so it was administered "to clear you out." (More likely, it was the children who cleared out when the castor oil bottle was taken down from the shelf.) Today, though, the purgative qualities of castor oil are often seen as a drastic measure, and the feared elixir is more commonly used in the manufacture of car oils, waxes, furniture polish and cosmetics.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Because my work involves travel, I eat out frequently. Other than the salad bar, what can I order that won't tip the scales? — V.J., Memphis, Tenn.

Answer: Even the salad bar can tip the scales unless you're diligent about staying away from the bleu cheese, high-fat dressings or oil-marinated artichokes. It's true that restaurants tend to pile on the gravy, butter, sauces and high-calorie desserts. Some restaurants have started adding "heart-healthy" or vegetarian items to their menus, and those that don't can be asked to leave off the butter or sauce. If you must have it, request that any gravy or sauce be served on the side, so that you can choose whether or not to dip into it.

When the breadbasket arrives, resist the temptation. Choose a small salad, a cup of clear soup (instead of creamy chowders or cheese-drenched onion soup) or possibly a smoked or broiled seafood appetizer served with lemon.

If you're ordering pasta, consider a marinara sauce rather than a meat-loaded red sauce. Poached or broiled fish can be a good choice, but avoid stuffed or breaded fish. Steamed, grilled or boiled vegetables with lemon are on many menus today as entrees.

At some restaurants, you may be able to choose from the salad or appetizer sections of the menu to create your own main dish. Crab cakes and a spinach salad, for example, make a fine follow-up to a cup of minestrone soup. If you're still hungry and want to try dessert, consider sorbet, fruit tarts, sponge cake or a plate of fresh fruit, however tempting that cheesecake may look.


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