Boomer Blog: Of dogs and tricks, old and new


Recently I wrote about the Sputnik-induced emphasis on space exploration in the late 1950’s. Back then, in fifth grade science, we studied the nine planets of our solar system: Mercury (hot), Venus (morning and evening star), Earth (home), Mars (red), Saturn (rings), Jupiter (big, many moons), Uranus (pronunciation issues), Neptune (small, distant), Pluto (smaller, more distant). We read about the planets, drew pictures, learned their characteristics, positions, and distances from the sun. All was right with the universe.

And then ten years ago headlines announced that Pluto, discovered in 1930, was no longer a planet. Modern photographs and new calculations of its location and size re-categorized Pluto as a “dwarf planet.” And just like that, one of the tenets of science we learned as kids disappeared.

I know – life goes on, and things change. We travel by the cars that replaced horse-and-buggy transportation. We punch at tiny keyboards instead of actually dialing numbers on our phones. Common foods regularly fall into and out of healthful favor. Frankly, I have lost track of whether I should or should not have eggs and coffee for breakfast. But it seems particularly jarring when a concept presented in our youth as truth undergoes profound change.

As an older sibling, teenage babysitter, and doting aunt, I put many babies down for the night. Following the example of older relatives, I positioned slumbering infants on their stomachs.

In the mid 1990’s, however, research indicated a reduced risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) when babies slept on their backs. A campaign informed the public of the safer sleeping position, and current guidelines advise that infants should sleep alone on their backs in cribs containing no pillows or blankets.

I recently learned that babies should also have regular “tummy time,” short periods of play when the child is awake and under adult supervision. Such sessions help exercise and strengthen head, neck, and shoulder muscles.

So, it is backs for sleep and tummies for play. Fortunately, the rate of SIDS has dropped markedly since the changes. If I were still in the business of niece or nephew care, however, I would probably have to consciously reverse what I learned so many years ago.

Because I avoid recipes with more than four ingredients, I do not actually “cook” in the traditional sense. I did not inherit my mother’s joy of cooking nor her skill, but I did learn that a recipe contains instructions to be followed to the letter. Mother’s precise measurements undoubtedly produced the yummy dishes she set on the supper table and the prizewinning baked goods she exhibited at the county and state fairs. She measured every ingredient with appropriate cups and spoons and leveled dry measurements with the very flat blade of one particular knife.

With that sense of correct cooking instilled in me at an early age, I now watch chef after chef on television scooping into canisters with random cups and sort of “leveling” the flour with a finger. Seasonings and leavening agents often seem slightly mounded – if measured at all.

Mother also always used a sifter to aerate the flour, distribute dry ingredients evenly, and remove clumps. I have never seen Bobby Flay or anyone on “Chopped” sift anything. In a disturbing trend, dry ingredients go straight from the canister into the mixing bowl.

I remain unconvinced, although my cousin maintains modern flours are sufficiently fluffy; and she wins blue ribbons on her cakes every year at the county fair. I even read a horrific online suggestion to poke a whisk right into the flour canister for a couple of turns. Believe me, the next time I find a cake recipe with four ingredients, I will be leveling the flour and baking powder before I sift them.

I must now confess to the modern crime I am committing as I write this article. Each day in Gladys Huffman’s one-semester personal typing class at GHS, my fellow seniors and I propped our typing books up on wooden stands and placed our fingers over the home keys of our manual typewriters. We developed speed and accuracy and mastered precise margins and spacing.

Forty years later I applied those lessons as I graded student papers. One of the most frequent form errors I encountered was the use of a single space at the end of a sentence, when typing protocol clearly required two spaces. Being accustomed to student forgetfulness, I thought nothing of their blank stares when I addressed the topic in class.

To my utter chagrin, I have just discovered that several years ago the major style manuals – MLA, AP Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style – eliminated the two-space rule: one space after end punctuation is not only acceptable but standard. Technological considerations in spacing differ from typewriter to computer, with extra space no longer necessary to emphasize the end of a sentence. Now I am wondering if I can unlearn the old rule – or if I will have to go back through this article to adjust each sentence.

My choices are clear. I can grump around about all this newfangled stuff and remain stuck in the lessons of the past, or this old dog can learn a few new tricks. I choose to start somewhere in the middle and try to catch up. Until then, pardon my learning curve. By the way, I removed the extra spaces…

By Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.

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