New Moon. Holy Innocents. Pablo Casals born, 1876. Hitler firebombed London, 1940. Wounded Knee, 1890.

Dec. 30, Tuesday - Dress rehearsal, "Pirates of Penzance," New York City, 1879.Dec. 31, Wednesday - Begin the New Year square with every man. - Robert B.Thomas.

Jan. 1, Thursday - Happy New Year! Circumcision. What you do today, you will do often in the New Year, so take care!

Jan. 2, Friday - Georgia became fourth state, 1788. Fan dancer Sally Rand born, 1904.

Jan. 3, Saturday - Alaska became 49th state, 1959. Waxed paper drinking straws patented by Chester C. Stone, 1888.

Jan. 4, Sunday - Louis Braille born, 1809. George Washington delivered first address to Congress, 1790.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: We've been reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder series of children's books and found Laura's Ma wearing her "delaine" for the barn dance. What's delaine?

- M.A.W., Rockport, Maine

Answer: It's a kind of woolen fabric that Caroline Ingalls' East Coast dressmakers used to make her fancy dress before she traveled out West with Charles, in "Little House on the Prairie." She'd probably kept it packed away in moth repellent herbs (bay, cedar, pennyroyal, sage or even tobacco) in between barn dances. It was likely well-tailored and fitted at the bodice, then cut wide in the skirts. The word comes from the French "de" for of, and "laine" for wool. There's a breed of sheep of pure Merino descent, with a very smooth body and long fine fleece that was particularly used for these finer woolen fabrics. Sometimes the wool was woven together with cotton before making it into a dress fabric, but more often the delaine was 100 percent wool. It might have been dyed in the wool, before weaving, or fabric-dyed with a plain or even fancy flowered print, or possibly embroidered after the dressmaking was completed. It must have been hot for dancing in, though, especially with all the petticoats underneath!

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: How many different gulls are there, and how does one tell them apart?

- J.H., Scituate, Mass.

Answer: Well, there must be close to a couple dozen, anyway, and differentiating them is definitely a trick. Even their names are deceiving, as with the black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus), which really has a brown head and takes its "ridibundus" from its laughing call but which must not be confused with the laughing gull (Larus atricilla), which has a black band at its tail and, we assume, also laughs. The little gull is about half the size of the herring gull, but both - like all gulls given the chance - eat herring, along with everything else. The mew gull mews, we're told, instead of laughing. The black-tailed gull, like the laughing gull, has a black tail band. The glaucous gull, from the Greek "glaukos" and Latin "glaucus" meaning blue-gray, displays that color on its wings and back, but then there's the Iceland gull (Larus glaucoides), somewhat smaller, whose Latin name means "like the glaucous gull." Oddly, the Iceland gull does not breed in Iceland, although it can be found there.

That's just the tip of the iceberg on gulls. Franklin's gull, Bonaparte's gull, Heermann's gull, Ross' gull, and Sabine's gull were all named after explorers, naturalists or ornithologists. The "Larus" or "Laridae" in the Latin names translates to "ravenous seabird, perhaps a mew," which would be hard to argue with, especially for anyone who's ever tried to feed a baby gull that's been separated from its mother. The word "gull" is thought to come from a Celtic name, possibly brought into English through the Cornish "gullan" or Breton "gwelan." Some argue it derives from the gull's sound or wail.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: Can you shed some light on osteoporosis? Isn't calcium easy to come by?

- G.J., Kidron, Ohio

Answer: Calcium alone isn't enough to combat osteoporosis, the development of porous bones that can seriously weaken your skeleton, leaving you susceptible to fractures, poor posture and loss of bone in the jaw. Women just past menopause are at particular risk, and small-boned, light-complexioned women seem to suffer a greater risk. Other contributing factors to osteoporosis include smoking, alcohol consumption, high-protein diets and sedentary lifestyles. An early incidence of graying hair or a hysterectomy or ovary removal also seems to indicate an increased risk.

Osteoporosis is uncommon in men, although after age 70 it becomes an increasing risk. Prevention is key; it is very difficult to reverse osteoporosis once it has begun. Nutrition and exercise are the two primary preventative measures.

Calcium-rich foods such as nonfat milk, yogurt, broccoli, cauliflower, tofu, salmon and leafy green vegetables such as spinach, almonds, and sesame seeds are easy to add to the diet. Adding nonfat dry milk to baked goods and stews is another simple way in increase calcium. To help calcium absorption, vitamin D (400 to 800 IU) and magnesium (250-350 mg) supplements may be taken. Vitamin D is less of an issue for anyone living in a sunny climate, but winter in Ohio won't do the trick. Some milk has been fortified with vitamin D, but studies suggest that skim milk rarely contains much of it, and fortified whole milk often has far less than claimed.

As for exercise, choose weight-bearing exercise (walking, stair climbing or aerobics is good, but not biking or swimming) and get into a routine that has you exercising at least three times a week for a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes. Every day for 30 minutes is best.

Some Chinese practitioners recommend the Asian ginseng or an herb called dong quai (Angelica sinensis) for helping to prevent osteoporosis. Both are thought to mimic the effects of estrogen, although studies are inconclusive. Consult your health practitioner for their advice on this or other therapies.

*****

Additional Information

This Week with The Old Farmer's Almanac

Dec. 29, 1997 - Jan. 4, 1998

Holy Innocents, Dec. 29.

New Year, New Baby

What better way to start the New Year than with a brand new baby? Every January, we see a few new faces from the maternity wards gracing the newspapers. But did you know that J. Edgar hoover, later head of the F.B.I. for almost 50 years, was a New Year's baby? So, too, were writers J. D. Sallinger (Catcher n the Rye) and E.M. Forster (A Passage to India). Actress and comic Carole Landis was another beautiful baby vorn on January 1. And Paul Revere and Betsey Ross started their patriotic days on New Year's Day. Barry Goldwater did the same.

A man shows in his youth what he will be in his age.

- Yugoslavian proverb

Tip of the Week

Rosemary and lemon-balm teas are reputed to combat postpartum depression.

Ham-and-Bean Soup

1 pound dry, small white beans

1-1/2 pounds ham hock

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1-1/2 cups peeled, diced potatoes

1 cup chopped carrots

salt and papper, to taste

Soak beans overnight; drain. Add 10 cups fresh water, ham hock, onion, and garlic. Cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Add vegetabls and simmer for another hour. Remove ham hock, cool, and cut any remaining meat from bone, returning the meat to the soup. Season to taste. Leftovers freeze well.

The Old Farmer's Weather Proverbs

When the Moon runs low (Dec. 29), expect unseasonably warm weather.

Wolves always howl more before a storm.

A crow flying alone is a sign of foul weather.

Got a Question?

Every day, the editors of The Old Farmer's Almanac answer a question on the Internet. All questions are archived there as well. Go to www.almanac.com.