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Check pulse while training

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Dec. 31, Monday — New Year's Eve. Begin the New Year square with every man. — R.B. Thomas, founder of "The Old Farmer's Almanac."

Jan. 1, Tuesday — New Year's Day. Circumcision. Welcome to the palindrome 2002.

Jan. 2, Wednesday — Georgia became the fourth state, 1788. State highway speeds limited to 55 mph, 1974.

Jan. 3, Thursday — Alaska became 49th state, 1959. If grass grows in January, it will grow badly all the year.

Jan. 4, Friday — St. Elizabeth Seton. Sir Isaac Pitman, inventor of shorthand, born 1813.

Jan. 5, Saturday — Twelfth Night. George Washington Carver died, 1943. January fog means a wet spring.

Jan. 6, Sunday — Epiphany. Remove holiday evergreens now or risk bad luck when the needles fall.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: My New Year's resolution is to go to the gym. Can you explain about monitoring pulse rates during exercise? — N.G., Houston

Answer: Checking your pulse rate during exercise gives your heartbeats per minute, as it is affected by the physical demands of your workout. It may benefit you to know which machines really get your blood moving versus those that offer a slower, warm-up or cool-down type of experience.

If your goal is a good aerobic workout, be advised to warm up slowly for a period of time, then accelerate your workout until your heartbeat reaches a peak level that is healthy for your age, weight and general state of fitness.

You can only determine the exact number of heartbeats per minute, in consultation with your physician and your qualified fitness trainer (if you have one). The ideal number depends on many things. So-called "insinuating conditions" should be taken into account, as well, such as whether you have a heart condition, you are pregnant or you are overweight.

In general, the idea is to build up your rate slowly over a long period of time, and push yourself as your fitness increases. After a period of sustained effort at the peak heart rate, you will want a slow, gradual cool-down period to give your body time to adjust to the change. Be sure to drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated.

The easiest way to take your pulse is to hold your left-hand palm up. Place the index and middle fingers of your right hand on your left wrist, finding a spot that's roughly at the base of the left thumb. Press gently, feeling for the beat of the pulse. Count the beats for a full minute. For a quicker version, count the beats in 15 seconds and multiply by 4. Some people prefer the side of the neck. The idea is the same. When trying to feel the pulse, however, don't use the thumb, since it has a pulse of its own which can be confusing.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: I'd like to have a New Year's Eve party, but I don't drink. Do you have any advice? — G.R., St. Louis, Mo.

Answer: One solution is simply to send invitations that list the event as a nonalcoholic celebration. Some people may elect not to come, while others may welcome a potentially less raucous scene. Of course, you wouldn't want guests leaving in the midst of a formal dinner party. If you are having a large gathering with a buffet-style bill of fare, it can work well. Some families like to sponsor a "moving supper," where guests move to different house, each hosting the food or entertainment portion of the evening's fare.

Many communities offer publicly sponsored versions of the same idea, also nonalcoholic, kicking off the evening with performing artists, street entertainers, clowns or other children's events. The evening continues with a bonfire or fireworks display at midnight. Singing, dancing, good food, cold cider, hot cocoa or nonalcoholic punches can all offer spirited entertainment, without the help of alcoholic spirits.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Can you explain Epiphany? — W.P.T., Charlotte, Vt.

Answer: Every year on Jan. 6 is the Feast of Epiphany, also called Twelfth Day. It marks the end of the Yuletide festivities. The word is not specific to Christianity, however, as Zeus' alias, "Epihanes," can attest. It means, "manifest one," from the Greek, "epi-phaino," to shine upon, or "epiphaneia" for manifestation.

More recently, Epiphany is associated with the coming of the Magi (Three Wise Men) as the first manifestation of the appearance of Christ to the Gentiles. In the Eastern Church, it is equated with the baptism of Christ. In Europe, noisy festivities are staged on Twelfth Night (the evening of Twelfth Day) to ward off evil spirits, as in pagan times, something like the Mardi Gras carnival here.

Traditionally, it is the time to remove the Christmas greens, wreaths and swags, lest bad luck come in where the drying evergreen needles fall. It is also considered time to be getting back to work after the holiday season and a time to take note that the hours of daylight are just beginning to lengthen. In Italy, the January 6 weather lore says, "At Twelfth Day, the days are lengthened one cock's stride."

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