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Dry gas can help but isn’t crucial

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Jan. 14, Monday — Favorable day for the birth of girls. Today is said to be the coldest day of the year.

Jan. 15, Tuesday — Start new projects. Vermont declared itself an independent state, 1777 (through 1791).

Jan. 16, Wednesday — Prohibition began, 1920. Baseball Hall of Fame star Dizzy Dean born, 1911. Wet January, wet spring.

Jan. 17, Thursday — Benjamin Franklin born, 1706. First child born in the White House, James Madison Randolph, 1806.

Jan. 18, Friday — Jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday performed at the Met, New York City, 1944.

Jan. 19, Saturday — The Beatles are inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, 1988. Tin can patented in the United States, 1825.

Jan. 20, Sunday — First basketball game played, Springfield, Mass., 1891. Begin diet to gain weight.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Is dry gas necessary for winter driving conditions? — J.U., Chester, Vt.

Answer: Some drivers never use it, while others swear by it. If you've been driving the same vehicle for a while in New England winters and haven't had a fuel line freeze up yet, chances are you don't need it. Many factors come into play, including the age and type of vehicle, the weather conditions in your area, whether you put your car in a garage and your particular driving habits. If you refuel frequently, you're less apt to have a problem than if you drive infrequently or let your gas tank get really low before you refuel.

Essentially, fuel additives such as dry gas prevent condensation, which can build up inside your gas tank if the gas level is low and temperature swings are extreme. The condensation drips into your fuel supply. Because water is heavier than the gasoline, it gets trapped at the bottom of the tank and possibly in your fuel line, where the water can freeze. If that happens, your car will act as if it's out of gas — even when it's not — and you're stuck until the temperature rises again or someone comes to your aid.

Dry gas is one preventative. Keeping your gas tank more than half-filled is another. Or if the temperature remains low, you shouldn't have to worry — at least until the spring thaw.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Have you heard of the superstition that talks about the significance of sneezing on various days of the week? — G.B.M., Bethesda, Md.

Answer: Of course — superstitions are nothing to sneeze about. Whether you believe in them or not, the rhymes are fun. "Sneeze on Monday, sneeze for danger. Sneeze on Tuesday, kiss a stranger. Sneeze on Wednesday, receive a letter. Sneeze on Thursday, receive something better. Sneeze on Friday, sneeze for sorrow. Sneeze on Saturday, see your lover tomorrow. Sneeze on Sunday, your safety seek, or the Devil will have you the rest of the week."

There are also many sneeze sayings that don't apply to the days of the week. Sneeze at bedtime and you'll have good luck. Sneezing to your right is considered more fortunate than sneezing toward the left. Bless yourself or others after a sneeze so demons won't rush in or so that your soul won't leak out. "Gesundheit" is just another version of "Good Health." The Roman custom was to invoke Jupiter. For those who still use these expressions, it's clear just how strong a grip superstitions still have.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Can you list some houseplants that won't harm pets or young children if they nibbled on a leaf or two? — L.C.A., Mobile, Ala.

Answer: Usually about this time of year we get questions about the poinsettia, which has had a bad rap as a poisonous plant for years. Although not highly poisonous, the milky sap in the stems can cause minor gastrointestinal problems in pets or humans if it's ingested. That same sap can be irritating to some people with sensitive skin. Holly berries and mistletoe berries are another matter, however. Keep them away from children and pets!

For nonpoisonous plants (although we certainly would not recommend eating them), consider the African violets, Boston ferns, Christmas (or Thanksgiving) cacti, coleus, fuchsias, gloxinias and jade plants (they're said to bring good fortune, especially if you can get them to bloom). Spider plants are easy to grow and harmless, in spite of their name.

If you have children or pets, avoid common houseplants such as philodendrons, English ivies, Christmas peppers, amaryllis and dieffenbachias. Daffodils, jonquils, hyacinths and tulips are all poisonous.

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