Uncovering layers


For the last walk of the year I planned to take my dog for a short stroll around the block, fifteen minutes tops so I wouldn’t have to brave the drizzling cold for too long but her nose kept following layers of smells on lawns, bushes and piles of leaves that beckoned to be recognized at that particular moment. Good-bye short walk, hello to more fresh air.The “stop- go” movements gave me a chance to copy her actions without crawling on all fours digging my nose into the ground but rather sniffing around the past, mostly in circles about people, places and events that were memorable to me during the past year. A cycle that draws to a close and in certain parts of the world has already been wrapped up, severed like the umbilical cord of a newborn making way for the new sibling of time to arrive with all the fanfare and lights accustomed to new beginnings.

“Wait” I call out to the layers of grey foggy patches in the East, but the fireworks and cheers drown out my request and like a cat that uses her claws to unravel a ball of wool, I hold onto the string of time and march along to my next destination.

Before I get to the corner near the house with the Las-Vegas-style Christmas decorations I have to use my little flashlight to illuminate what my dog had just deposited, swiftly scoop the droppings into a lavender-scented, environmentally friendly bag that I expertly tie to keep the contents contained. The manufacturer of the bags claims that it only costs “pennies per poop” which is rather reassuring when it comes to my finances. My steps become a little lighter and faster since my dog has turned the corner on the last stretch towards home and I am relieved when thinking about my last meal.

Every New Years Eve I maintain my financial security by eating lentils. I follow a custom that dates back to my youth which was spent in the Black Forest region in Germany. Inhabitants there are referred to as Swabians and known to be quite frugal. Their philosophy is based on the simple truth that “wealth comes from hard work” and people take pride in following that philosophy. Most of my relatives and other folks in the village where I grew up cooked a certain kind of lentil stew on the last day of the old year and legend declared that by eating lentils (which in shape resemble coins) on December 31st, one will be assured of financial stability in the year to come. This legend did not foresee a drastic influx in people’s bank accounts ( or the swelling of a “savings-sock” that many folks kept under their mattress) but it reminded everybody to be frugal. Frugal with their time, frugal with their money and frugal with their sentiments. They would not say things like: ” May you be virtually wrapped in a blanket of abundance that allows your motivation to propel you towards success and generates love from the innermost well of your heart to unquestioningly flow into the universe.” Instead they would say: “embrace your abundance of success and love” because they remove the unnecessary layers of words and prefer to make concise, direct statements.

Removing layers, scooping up things that are no longer needed and embracing a new future has no boundaries. I’m not talking about forgetting and leaving “the old” behind but rather about being selective on what needs to be carried forward.This old year runs like a cartoon character on fast forward as my mind glimpses at events, places and people who shared my path. I hear laughter and music , words and barks that enhance the good feeling of belonging, of being welcomed, of being home.

“Woof, woof, woof”, says my dog as she leads me into our driveway, up the steps and into the yard.

“Good dog,” I reply as I remove her harness, dispose of the poop bag and rub her fur dry with a towel as a typical “wet-dog” smell lifts from her hair. Once inside, the wet-dog smell mingles with the aroma of the lentil stew and I proceed to set the table. I reflect on the words by British author Douglas Adams and agree that: “I may not have gone where I intended to go but I think that I have ended up where I needed to be.”

Lentil stew recipe:  saute a chopped onion in olive oil, add garlic, salt, cumin and optional fresh ginger. Add a few finely cubed carrots and fill the pot half with water. Add your choice of powdered or a cube of vegetable stock or chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add brown lentils, about 400 g or more depending on how thick you like your stew. For a non-vegetarian option you could use a couple of slices of cubed bacon (smoked for extra flavour) to simmer along in the pot. The lentils may take up to 45 minutes to cook to reach the required softness. You may add some chopped up spinach and a couple of spoonfuls of balsamic vinegar. Half a bushel of chopped up fresh cilantro is optional.The lentil stew is usually served over a helping of spaetzle (which is a type of egg noodle from Swabia). Add balsamic vinegar to individual taste. Noodles may be substituted with rice, or just a slice of whole grain bread. Measurements for most ingredients are not provided since I rarely measure when it comes to cooking and prefer to  just chop, add and taste a bit until I know it will be good.