Dear world....so...here it is....our big, exciting news (well...one of them...we're starting the year off on a few bits of big, exciting news!) Ever since we first found out about The Book Bus charity about 18 months ago, Toby desperately wanted to volunteer with them. For over a year, we saved money, deliberated, and communicated with the charity, deciding on the best time to make sure Toby can genuinely participate, and not just "tag along". Last November, Toby and I got accepted as volunteers, to visit and work with schools in Zambia for two weeks in August 2017. So, we are saving, thinking up games, stories and books to read with the children we'll be working with, sorting vaccinations, and getting generally very, very excited! A few weeks ago, we were very lucky to be able to meet with Isobel, a lady from Sheffield who had volunteered with The Book Bus last summer. She told us lots about her trip, and we are looking forward to training in the run-up to our visit, too. It will be a very, very exciting summer!
Dear world, please forgive us the long post. Three years ago today, on the way to school, Toby asked if he could write a letter to every country in the world. When he started his project, we never could have even begun to imagine where it might lead. People sometimes ask Toby what he has learnt from the project. And of course, he has learnt a lot of things - he has learnt that there are few trees in both Qatar and Nunavut, he has learnt how countries' customs and cultures are influenced by their history, he has learnt that some people celebrate Eid and others celebrate Christmas, he has made a Khratong and bread for Day of the Dead. He has learnt about capitals, populations, weather, wild creatures and disasters. But he has learnt something else, too, and you, all of you, have been teaching him.
Two years before the project started (five years ago now), a 3-year-old Toby said the quote in the picture. "Heroes save the world. But sometimes they don't. Then you have to save the world yourself." How do we save the world??? Toby knows that "saving the world" won't be led by people wearing capes and flying to the rescue.
So: To those who tell the children around you to dream big, who don't laugh and say "you can't do that" - thank you. To those who are willing to answer questions about your faith, your customs, the way you love, the way your mind works, your schools, your hobbies, your dreams and hopes, to build bridges made of knowledge and friendship, rather than walls made of ignorance - thank you. To those who have let us know that Toby's project has made a difference to your life and how you see the world - thank you. To those of you saving the world, one kind smile, one hug, one small gesture at a time - thank you. You are our heroes. You are saving the world. Please keep doing what you're doing - you're doing a great job.
On the 16th March, something amazing happened: Toby's story got picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald, and subsequently spent the week bouncing around "down under", hitting the New Zealand Herald on Friday 18th March. Lots of lovely people got in touch to help Toby find the "missing countries", and even more volunteered their addresses from Australia and New Zealand. Both are countries Toby would love to visit one day, so he was very keen to try and write to as many people as possible. He therefore declared Sunday, 20th March 2016 to be the:
Over the course of the day, a total of 23 letters got written - the most letters Toby has ever written in one day!
10 letters got written to New Zealand, to:
Lianne (Tauranga), Beryl (Manurewa), Savannah (Hamilton), Mr Quate's class at Tamatea Intermediate School (Napier), Jessica (Wellington), Jasmine (North Canterbury), Matthew (Auckland), Toby (Auckland), Di (Auckland) and Karen (New Plymouth).
Over the course of the day, we read about the WOMAD Festival, we found out how Mauao / Mount Manganui got its name, found out about countless museums and beautiful landscapes, and Toby asked about school, toys and recipes.
13 letters got written to Australia, to:
Gisele (Ashfield), Emily (Fairy Meadow), Kirsty (Hobart), Nina (Victoria), Lily (Lilydale), Mrs Salter and Kingergarten Green (Summer Hill), Ariana (Sydney), Alex (Derby), Logan and Emerald (Cessnock), Laura (Lithgow), Angel (Morgan), Bigyan (Wollongong), Anita (Buderim).
In Australia, Toby loved finding out more about the Puffing Billy Railway, fell in love with the Jenolan Caves, and tried to work out how he could get to Sculpture at Scenic World.
Since it's impossible to write 23 letters without breaks, we asked on Toby's Facebook Page to find authentic recipes to sustain us. We made a pavlova and Anzac biscuits (but we did eat some healthy food, too).
Thank you so much to everybody who helped us have such a fantastic day - we would love to do the same with different countries in the future!!
Toby spent a summer holiday...not writing letters, but exploring the world in other ways. One of these was a one-week summer school, where he is beginning to learn Mandarin. It also included dancing, singing, watching eating, and lots and lots of crafting. As part of the week, he made me this lovely card! After the week's summer school, he declared that he absolutely had to carry on learning Mandarin, so from now on, he will join a group of other children every Saturday at "Chinese School". Toby thinks this will help him greatly with his goal to learn more about the world, and to talk to people once he grows up and gets to explore the world for real, so fingers crossed he'll learn lots and lots and lots!
It has been a long time since we blogged, and we have much to tell the world, especially about the amazing holiday we went on. But first of all, let us wish those who celebrate it a (belated) Happy Easter. In our family, we have one Easter tradition that goes back at least six generations, and that has its roots in Eastern Europe; and that's the painting of Easter eggs. It is called "Pysanky", or "drop-pull method". You mark the egg with hot wax, before dying it batik-style. Take the egg out once the colour you want has been achieved, then paint more wax on, trapping that colour. Dye again, then repeat if you want. At the end, you carefully scrape off the wax and use a tiny amount of oil or butter to give the eggs a nice shine. We paint our eggs raw, so that if we like any, you can blow them out and hang them on an Easter display.
The process is very hit-and-miss - this year, some years, the eggs don't accept the colour well, others, you scrape a lot off when you scrape the wax off. But each year, there are one or two worth blowing out. Below is our haul from this year, painted by all the family. Toby painted his first egg when he was two years old, and we paint them every year - this year, a day later than normal, because of our holiday.
Do you have a special way of painting Easter eggs?
Toby has reached his fourth full ShelterBox, so we thought we would post here to celebrate and to say "Thank you" to everybody who has helped him achieve this goal. We never thought, when he started, that donations would come from nearly all continents, and we are truly grateful to everybody who made this project possible - by becoming a letter-writing partner, helping to find a partner, being part of our "little world" on Facebook, sharing ideas, recipes, etc., and, of course, donating - thank you" http://www.justgiving.com/writingtotheworld
Today is "Nikolaustag", St Nicholas Day. "Nikolaustag" is German, and they have "Nikolaustag" in Germany, and in Austria, and Switzerland. In Holland and Belgium, it's called "Sinterklaas". It's a day from the Catholic calendar, but just like Christmas, it has become a part of culture for lots of people.
St Nicholas was really Greek, and he lived a long time ago, around the year 350!! That's over one-and-a-half thousand years ago. It says that he used to leave secret presents. If you would like a present from St Nicholas, you have to be good all year, and the evening before St Nicholas Day, you have to clean your shoes or boots, and leave them for St Nicholas to find (Mummy said I couldn't leave my new Wellington boots that are still two sizes too big and didn't need cleaning). It's great because the bigger you get, the bigger your shoes get! St Nicholas always brings me lots of chocolate and a little present. This year, I got "Alfie Small: Captain Thunderbolt and the Jelloids", and I can read the Alfie Small books by myself, and I really like them. If you are naughty, St Nicholas just leaves twigs in your boots, but I've never had twigs, and Mummy says she's never had twigs, either! St Nicholas sometimes comes to grown-ups' work places, too, and leaves little anonymous gifts. I cleaned my boots really, really carefully, I even cleaned the bottoms and the inside of the straps! I really like Nikolaustag because it feels like Christmas is coming soon, and is already here a little bit!
Toby received a very special response today. Blue Peter is a children's programme, and Blue Peter badges are "badges of honour" given to children to contribute to the show, or who do something worthy of special recognition. About 50 letters into Toby's project, friends and family were starting to say things like "you ought to get a Blue Peter badge for this". Toby didn't want to ask for a badge until he had completed the full challenge and written to every country in the world...but he did write the letter to Blue Peter immediately after the one that completed his project. That was in October, and today, the postman brought a response - and a Blue Peter Badge, in recognition of his project and his fundraising! Toby is feeling very honoured, and is so happy! The badge arrived the day before his 6th birthday - normally, badges are only given to children 6 years or older, so he's especially happy to have got his badge while he is still five. A badge is not *just* for the honour, it actually comes with a "Blue Peter Card", and gives Toby free entry to lots of attractions, such as zoos, aquariums, castles, theme parks, etc. - so it will help us do more exploring, too. Thank you to Blue Peter, and to the world, for helping him achieve his goal, and helping us explore the world!
Remember, remember, the 5th of November...now we have had a go at embracing Halloween and the Dia de los Muertos, we promised we would tell you about a very British "celebration" - Guy Fawkes' Night...also known as Bonfire Night.
What a lot of people can probably tell you is that a lot-a-lot of years ago, somebody called Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Parliament in London. He got caught, and on Guy Fawkes' Night, people celebrate by lighting bonfires, having fireworks and making "a guy" to burn ceremoniously (think a scarecrow).
Children learn the rhyme:
Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
As is usual, over time, certain details get forgotten, and others get amended. For full details of Guy Fawkes' Day, have a look at good old Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes_Night
For a children's version (or for grown-ups who don't want to plough through lots of information), have a look here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/15351828
Sheffield (where we live) has a fireworks display every year on the 5th of November, called "After Dark" - you can see the 2011 one here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcbnP09TGk0 - Toby hasn't been yet, because it starts quite late...maybe next year.
Bonfire night is also the time of warming autumn recipes, treacle, toffee, and a special type of gingerbread from our region, called parkin. There are lots of recipes for bonfire night here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/occasions/bonfire_night - we'll definitely try a parkin one this year!
This blog is mainly a way to keep track of our recipes - for day to day updates, please check out Toby's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/writingtotheworld