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Know the link between opus and opera?

Plus: A bee to the rescue!

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Posted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 12:00 am

This column has been a little late abornin', as the saying goes. Time goes by so sneakily that three weeks go by as if they were two — but here we are, at it again.

I saw something the other morning I would not have believed if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. A very small spider with a small but very sticky web had trapped a large carpenter bee, which was struggling to free itself, with no luck. I don't like carpenter bees — they bore holes in my porch posts — but I felt sorry for this one and turned to find something to break the web. As I turned back, a companion bee, which had been frantically flying around the web, managed to beat its wings close enough to help the trapped bee get free — and off they went, leaving the spider with a fragmented sticky web.

Animal life around here has become exciting. The hummingbirds are back after a month's absence. The ever-present feeder and lots of blossoms have done it once again. Also, we have two new animal friends: one, a red-headed woodpecker who delights in dining on the peanuts in the squirrel feeder, and the other a small possum with a crippled right hind leg. I put out a bowl of inexpensive cat food for him (her?) late each night after Toby cat is in for good. His name is Peter Possum, of course!

I first saw Peter early one afternoon as we were backing out the car en route someplace.

He was limping along the edge of the driveway and looked pretty miserable, paying no attention to us or the noise. When he went off into the flower bed, I ran in and got him a handful of Toby's food and out it out near where he had been. By the time we left, he was eating. That settled it, of course, particularly as on the next night I had propped the kitchen door open for Toby and came back to find Peter eating out of Toby's dish. I suggested gently that he leave, and he politely did so. So far as I can tell, he eats a bit out of his own bowl every night. There is always a bowl of water out in the back garden for whoever needs it, and I'm sure he does.

In addition to all the animal life, there are other things in the garden! The redbud tree has come and gone in all its glory and now the hawthorn is a delight with its clusters of pink flowers. All the roses are rejoicing in warmer weather and flaunting their petals in the face of anyone coming near. I hope recent rains don't do too much harm.

A friend asked me some time ago to comment on the following: It's first come, first serveD, not serve. A person is nauseATED; what makes him so is nauseOUS in itself. It really should be "open MIKE" to get the right sound, not "open MIC." The long "i" is fine in the Greek root "micro" but not in our English shorthand speech. And it's "as yet," not "as of yet," and "off," not "off of" when what one means is "from." Better to say "from" in the first place!

While we're on the subject of usage, it's "make do," as in making something old do just as well as something new in meeting a need, not "make due." "Due" is for schedules of arrivals! And the phrase is "all for naught (nothing)," not all for "not."

Also, watch a well-used word in its tenses. You run over a nail in the road today, you ran over one yesterday, and you have run over a lot of nails in the course of years. Here's the kicker: the nails have been run over, NOT ran over.

One last caveat: Beware using older verbs unless one is sure of the correct forms. One such is "tread," to walk on. Past tense is "trod"; the participle and adjectival form are "trodden." Another word trap is "muu muu," that delightful Hawaian garment good for summer wear. The word is Hawaiian in spelling, too.

A note from the email: starting April 30, you can buy stamps at the Post Office that help to buy food for shelter pets. The stamps feature the faces of cats and dogs, and can be pre-ordered online at This is a great idea. Please buy them.

Another note from the email; be sure to check expiration dates on Bisquick, and all cake, cookie, pancake, waffle, brownie mixes and the like. Use before these dates, or dispose of the mixes. Apparently, mold that develops in old mixes can produce spores that can be deadly. An example was given of a high school student who nearly died because he had eaten pancakes made from an outdated box of mix. Check the pantry now!

I have just finished reading "Miles Gone By," a literary biography of William F.Buckley Jr., who died not too long ago. The book comprised selections of books, articles and speeches he had written or delivered over his lifetime. Here was a man with a prodigious brain, enough money to lead an interesting life, and a wide circle of friends and acquaintances in learned and social circles. I came away with a list of quotations:

"In all composites there has got to be an arrangement of attributes, and no such arrangement can project one quality to the point of distorting others. A beautiful face is a comprehensive achievement."

On looking for a hero for a spy novel he was writing: "The first feature of the distinctively American male is … spontaneity. A kind of freshness born of curiosity and enterprise and native wit."

"Vacations are primarily there to interrupt the quiet, understated, indeed often unacknowledged, pleasure you take from work. However routine, work is a fortifying experience, your intimate sense of your own productivity."

Another tidbit included the fact that "opera," meaning "works," is the plural of "opus," meaning "work." Composers use "opus" a lot. And of course, we think of "opera" as a grand play that is sung instead of spoken.

And then there was mention of the fact that different countries in Europe used railroads of different gauges to prevent Napoleon from invading. In the early 1880s, Spain even rebuilt its railroads for this reason.

Speaking of books, please read "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein, narrated by the dog who is the pet in a racecar driver's family. You may learn more about racing that you might like, but the story is warm and moving.

Another book which also features a dog's point of view among several is "Together," by Tom Sullivan and Betty White. Here is the tale of how a suddenly blinded young man and a dog devoted to his trainer came to love and depend on each other. A lot of information here about how guide dogs and their new masters learn to function together.

Gwin Paden has been in Lodi since 1957 and has been writing this column since 1999. She has multiple interests and has had multiple careers and multiple community interests. Age has slowed her down somewhat but her curiosity is still working!

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