This is the perfect season for curling up with a book, and also the perfect season to share your reading wish list with family and friends (just in case they need some gift ideas!) I've compiled a list of my favourite winter reads, for big people and small ones, and my eldest daughter (just turned 12) has supplied her tweenage recommendations. I hope you find some inspiration here and, by all means, share your own winter favourites with me!
Nature moves in cycles. We can see it in the dance of the seasons from winter to spring to summer to autumn and back to winter. We can see it in the water cycle, photosynthesis, the food web, and the life cycle of one small basil plant. Everything is constantly in motion - living, dying, beginning again - and everything is interconnected. We often forget that we are a part of that, too.
A lot of plants are dying off or back in autumn, but you can plant stuff too! A couple of weeks ago, my girls and I got busy on the balcony, planting some bulbs in pots. We've got iris, hyacinth and crocus. I haven't planted bulbs since I was a kid, and I'm excited for them to come up!
All my life I have lived near water. I grew up less than 10 minutes’ walk from the bank of the River Thames in England. For five years, I lived on the west coast of Wales. Then, in my mid-twenties, I lived back in England, two minutes’ walk from a lake. Now, I live in Athens … but not in Athens, on the edge of Athens - and that makes all the difference.
In spring, two of my daughters planted some basil seed. I wasn’t optimistic. First, the seeds were from a kids’ mini-greenhouse kit from a toy shop. Second, I have tried to grow basil from seed before - and failed. Well, I should have had a bit more faith, because that basil sprouted ...
There are two things I can harvest from the olive tree in our garden - olives and leaves. This year is my first time working with either, although I have been a fan of eating olives for most of my life!
We all know olive oil is good for us, but why? The answer is polyphenols! Polyphenols are a group of over 8,000 compounds that include all the good stuff we hear about - flavonoids, phenolic acids and lignans, for example. Plants have them to protect themselves against ultraviolet radiation and/or pathogens, but they’re good for us too. Polyphenols have excellent antioxidant properties. Some also have anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic effects, among other things, which makes them great support for the immune system, and another line of defence against cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis and degenerative neurological disease.
Olives, the olive branch and the olive tree are symbolic in many cultures and religions, from ancient Egypt to Christianity to the Arab world. In ancient Greece, newborn babies were presented with an olive branch, brides wore a crown of olive leaves, and olive wreaths were given to the dead. It was illegal to cause damage to an olive tree in ancient Greece - a crime that was actually punishable by death at one point! The olive tree was also sacred to Athena and had a special place in the myth of the founding of Athens, the city I live in.