<![CDATA[Shelby Van Voris: A Travel diary <br />where everything that can go wrong, does - The mommy chronicles of a chronic traveler]]>Sat, 30 Jan 2016 03:27:29 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Finland and Estonia]]>Sat, 30 Jan 2016 11:06:55 GMThttp://www.shelby-vanvoris.com/the-mommy-chronicles-of-a-chronic-traveler/finland-and-estoniaSummer Planning:  Finland
The breathtaking endless summer nights make Finland a top European destination for families in the summer.
Finland borders Russia, Sweden, Norway at its north most point, and the Baltic Sea.  This country is unique linguistically, as it’s language has both Hungarian and Swedish roots; Suomi (or Finnish) is spoken throughout Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Norway.  Helsinki is the capitol of Finland, boasting most of the country’s population (89%).  Summers in Finland are long and bright, dawn is around 4am, while sundown is at 11pm, making this an ideal summer destination. 
Wander Helsinki, popping into the famous Hakaniemi Market for fresh fish & berries followed by a boat ride to Suomenlinna, an island fortress, to understand the rich history of Finland.  After a few days in Helsinki, discovering fascinating stores and handmade goods, wander north by car and stay at a lakeside house.  Hike the forests, eating wild raspberries and blueberries right off the bush and spend the evenings relaxing in a sauna and relaxing dip in the lake.
Finnish cuisine is comprised of seasonal vegetables, seafood and moose or deer meat.  Finland has had a gastronomical renaissance as of the late 2000’s.  Pop into a gastropub and ask for a tasting menu.  The mix of berries and meats, the fresh seafood and the flash cooked veggies are divine.

What to do: 
Market Square
FI-00170 Helsinki
Overlooking the Baltic sea, local farmers bring their goods for sale daily.  Everything from Moose Sausage to handmade soap are available here.

FI-00190 Helsinki
It's a short ferry ride from Helsinki's harbor to this UNESCO world heritage site.  Explore Finland's history, including ancient times and linguistics.

Seurasaari Open Air Museum
FI-00250 Helsinki
Understand Finnish historic architecture, culture and how people survived such tough winters.

Hakaniemi Market
FI-00130 Helsinki
From culinary treats to unique spice blends, this market is where to eat, taste and smell Finland. 

FI-06100 Porvoo
One of the oldest cities in Finland boasts stunning views, phenomental seafood and charming architecture.  Only 50 km from Helsinki, it's worth an extra day to explore.

Lake House Rentals
Live like a Finn, choose a rental with a Sauna.  However, be prepared:  most do not have indoor plumbing!

<![CDATA[Run, don't walk to Marrakesh!]]>Mon, 18 Jan 2016 09:15:35 GMThttp://www.shelby-vanvoris.com/the-mommy-chronicles-of-a-chronic-traveler/run-dont-walk-to-marrakesh​Marrakesh is one of the most mystical cities we’ve visited in our 30-some years of travel.  It’s a unique, family friendly destination.  At first glance, Morocco seems daunting:  it’s northern Africa, it’s hot, and very populous.  However, Morocco is very western in many ways and requires little planning. 
Choose a central Raid.  A riad is a traditional Moroccan-style home, a square built around a garden with a small pool.  The pool in the center naturally cools the rooms around it.  Temperatures in Morocco in the summer can exceed 100 F.  Traditional hotels are all around Marrakesh, however, a Riad gives you a more authentic Moroccan experience.  Most Riads in Marrakesh offer fabulous meals and roof top dining.
Wandering the Souk, or Market, requires at least 1 day and a compass.  There’s miles upon miles of vendors in the Souk.  You will find anything and everything in the Souk:  jewelry, antiques, spices, food, clothing, rugs, medicine, lamps…  It is expected that you haggle with vendors, most of whom speak English or French.  Haggling is a part of the souk culture.  Although uncomfortable for some travelers, here’s what that looks like:  1) ask the price, 2) offer 50% of what they’re asking for, 3) the vendor counter offers, 4) you counter offer, 5) vendor gives you the final price.  If the price isn’t one you’re comfortable with, walk away.  Sometimes, walking away will result in the vendor then agreeing to the price you were looking for.  Finally, don’t hesitate to say “no” and keep walking.
At night the Jamaa el Fna square shifts into bustling outdoor market.  Street food vendors set up around 6:00, offering everything from seafood to tagines (slow cooked meals in pots over an open flame). Pick a vendor in the center, sit and order what the waiter recommends.  After eating, wander Jamaa el Fna’s entertainment.  You’ll see “street dentists” offering dentures, story tellers, street musicians, snake handlers and whirling dervishes. 
Accessible via a day trip are the Atlas Mountains and Ouzoud Waterfalls.  Hiring a private guide isn’t terribly expensive, at 65-70 dollars for a day.  The tour guide we used is available here: http://www.moroccoattractivetours.com.  Our tour guide, Chakib, was very friendly and knowledgeable with a great sense of humor.  They also offer Sahara Desert excursions via camel and 4x4. 
Marrakesh offers a unique culture that feels worlds away from anything we’ve ever experienced.  Moroccans are warm and friendly, the food is delectable and the bustle of the Souk left us wanting to return. 
<![CDATA[Forget the Magnets]]>Sun, 13 Dec 2015 09:34:45 GMThttp://www.shelby-vanvoris.com/the-mommy-chronicles-of-a-chronic-traveler/forget-the-magnetsWhen we travel, I hardly buy a thing.  With the exception of our travels to the Middle East, where you can buy original rugs, I don’t buy trinkets.  Nope, no silly souvenir shops and no airport vendors selling overpriced bric-a-brac.  In fact, during our last trip to the Netherlands, I spent €12 on tulip bulbs and €8 on a poffertjes pan.  That is it!

However, I have more souvenirs than I can count from our travels.  Now, I bet you’re wondering, what does she buy?

Spices:  I buy spices.  There are unique flavors in each destination we visit.  I purchased fennel in Malta and 45-spice in Marrakesh.  These are not your run-of-the-mill McCormick versions.  These are spices that are handpicked, unique, and always more flavorful than anything I could purchase at the local grocery store.

Shells/Rocks:  I pick up a rock or shell from each trip.  I select something memorable, or during a memorable moment.  Each represents the geology and unique terrain we visit.  They are carefully placed in a glass jar, prominently displayed in our home.

Ask the chef how to do it:  Not only do I try the foods from local chefs, I run back to the kitchen and beg to watch them cook.  Often, chefs are glad to share secrets during slow times.  Sometimes, this requires my husband and daughter to go off and wander as I  get a sneak peek into local foods.

Cooking classes:  Whenever I can find a formal cooking class, I attend them.  I bring a notebook, and always take a photo with the chef.  On one trip to Bologna, the chef had our daughter prepare the gnocchi with him and serve it to us.  She can still make a mean gnocchi, one year later.  I’ve taken formal lessons around a dozen times, ranging anywhere from 2 hours to 4.  These tend to cost between €40-90.  Worth every penny.  I come away with training I could never pick up at a souvenir shop.

Locally made Maps:  I have about 50 stunning maps of the places we’ve visited over the years.  None of them cost more than €7 at an antiques retailer.  Some are antique, others are reproductions.  All are worthy of framing.

Posters:  Last time we went to Paris, I saw a poster that had fallen off a wall advertising a neighborhood festival.  The artwork was stunning, and although battered, it could easily be cleaned up.  These signs make for perfect wall art, whilst reminding you of the local ambiance.

Photos:  With a good DSLR and some patience, you can take some fantastic photos along your trek.  I print mine in black and white and frame.  Our walls are covered in photos of our travels, reminding us of where we’ve been.  Since I took the photos, I’m even more proud to display them.

What unique souvenirs do you take home? 

- Shelby Van Voris

<![CDATA[4 Days in Prague]]>Sat, 05 Dec 2015 09:08:17 GMThttp://www.shelby-vanvoris.com/the-mommy-chronicles-of-a-chronic-traveler/4-days-in-praguePrague is often overlooked by families heading to Europe.  The East can be daunting to first time travelers.  What you think about the East will be obliterated by a visit to Prague.  This warm, friendly, cultural mecca has a lot to offer families of all shapes and sizes.
The Charles Bridge:
Strolling down the Charles Bridge during the day is spectacular.  There’s street artists, jugglers, craft vendors and musicians.  Prague is filled with the arts, and the epicenter is the Charles Bridge.  However, at night, this bridge lights up and becomes even busier.  The views from the bridge do no disappoint and the food vendors set up around dinnertime to serve local cuisine for cheap. 
Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral:
Again, we were greeted on the trek up to the castle with artists, musicians and vendors of all sorts.  At the top of the walkway, you’ll find a Starbucks.  The Prague Starbucks terrace has one of the best views of the city we found, so popping by for a latte and photo-op is a must.  Once at the top, soldiers do daily demonstrations and greet visitors, gladly explaining the castle’s history.  Once occupied by Roman Empowers and Bohemian Royalty, Prague castle happens to be one of the oldest and largest castles in the world and is still occupied by the President of Czech Republic.  St. Vitus Cathedral is attached to this monstrous castle.  Dedicated to St. Vitus, the patron saint of acting, the cathedral is a stunning piece of gothic architecture.  Inside, hiring an English speaking guide is easy and a tour through the cathedral is a must-do.  The gardens surrounding Prague Castle are perfectly manicured and worth a look.  Also, Kafka’s former residence, a tiny home on the golden square, is a must see.
The Lennon Wall:
Located across from the French Embassy, the Wall is a work in progress and therefore, never the same.  Although John Lennon never visited Prague, students began writing their grievances with the Czech government, at the time they were communist, on the wall.  The Czech government painted the wall time and again, covering the student’s work.  Finally, the students began painting images of John Lennon and lyrics from his songs.  Their movement became known as “Leninism”.  The wall symbolized the Czech youth’s desire for freedom.  Today, the wall is a reminder of the struggles we have still today, messages like “Je Suis Paris” and “Pray for the Refugees” were scrolled across it.
Old Town:
Old Town Prague contains stunning squares, the Jewish Quarter, the St. Nicholas Church, original cobblestone streets, absinthe bars, and lots of crystal.  The Jewish Quarter was the most fascinating, known as Josefov, complete with a well curated museum, cemetery and a perfectly preserved old town. Josefov was the only place where Jews were allowed to reside in Prague.  As the 19th Century turned into the 20th, Jews from all over Europe crowded into the tiny Ghetto.  Get there early to purchase tickets, the lines were very long even on a cold winter’s day.  Kafka’s birth home is also located in Old Town, in a demure building with a small café on the first floor.  Kafka’s work was influential in fusing fantasy with realism, in a literary movement named “Kafkaism”.
Eating in Prague:
Prague is experiencing a culinary renaissance. It’s clear Bohemian foods reign, goulash and sausage are available everywhere, but there’s modern twists everywhere you turn.  Historically Goulash would be served as a soup.  Today, Goulash is slowly seared pork cheeks with sauce and bread dumplings to accompany.  Street food vendors offer rolled pastries dipped in cinnamon, sugar and nuts and the occasional Czech style Gyro consisting of goulash sauce, pork, cabbage in a pita.  There are fabulous restaurants down the tiny alleyways around Prague.  Our litmus test for locating a restaurant:  if it’s full of locals, it must be good.  Two of our favorite places we tried were Delice, found here http://www.delicerestaurant.cz/en, and BadJeff’s Barbeque, found here http://www.badjeffs.cz/en/. Both were child friendly, offered unique Bohemian dishes and reasonably priced.
Staying in Prague:
Prague is full of swanky hotels at astronomical prices.  We opted for the Appia Hotel Residences, a moderately priced hotel with enormous rooms, underground parking and a fabulous breakfast included.  Find them at:  http://www.appiaresidencesprague.cz

- Shelby Van Voris
<![CDATA[KABOOM]]>Sun, 25 Oct 2015 09:05:10 GMThttp://www.shelby-vanvoris.com/the-mommy-chronicles-of-a-chronic-traveler/kaboomPicture
Every mom has that moment:  quick, get under the covers and hide.  Here's mine and tips on how to avoid...

Whilst in a lovely crystal shop somewhere in Northern Bavaria, my toddler decided to explore.  Being a mild free-ranging parent, I obliged.  In no way did I expect the following to happen...  Our child waltzed up to the fanciest display of hand-blown glass (I'm sure you know where I'm going with this by now) in the store, a mix of crystal and glass that tantalizes every collector's delight.  There's stunning shades of pink, reds, greens and purples to suit every fancy, a 2 year old girl's dream come true.  Much to my delight, our daughter squeals and screams "pwwwwettttttyyyyyy" at the display and walked away without incident.  As we continue wandering the store, we find a local 4th generation glass blower that demonstrates how he carefully crafts his wares.  "This vase took me 30 hours of blowing" said the artisan, as he proudly held up the multicolored vase for all to see.  This is where everything turned...

Our daughter, a curious girl, said "bitte" auf deutsch, or please in german, to the artisan.  He smiled and handed her a small cup that was still warm from forming.  Our daughter then lets out a blood curdling scream, "nein" (no in German), grabbing at the large vase.  The man giggled and said auf deutsch, "this is not for little girls" and smiled.  Well, our 2 year old was NOT going to be told she was little nor was she going to be dismissed.  Two years old is the WORST age, ever.  This is the year you'll want that wine purse or a personal anesthesiologist at all times...  I did not attempt even reasoning at this age, as you are pretty much dealing with a toddler-terrorist.  And you know, "we don't negotiate with terrorists"?  Well it rings true when you have a tiny-drunk-uncle waving a piece of hand-blown glass around.  You remove the glass, set it down and walk out, RIGHT?  Within a blink of an eye, that warm, newly made glass went HURDLING into a display behind us, and, KABOOM...glass is everywhere.  Again, this is when I tell you, that wine purse is both brilliant and a necessary means to parenting any toddler...

As I stood there, jaw on the floor, I looked over at the artisan.  "I'm so sorry" I said, I muttered it again...and he began LAUGHING.  Since we'd only lived in Germany for a few months at this point, I wondered if laughing was a cultural nuance I didn't quite understand yet (my husband is from Central Germany, I was in Bavaria--which I was told by my in-laws was "another country altogether").  The man waved his hand and said "never mind" in german several times, then handed our daughter the vase.  At this point, I was willing to hand over the credit card and my checkbook, simultaneously, to cover the damage.  But, what I understood during our short conversation is this:  nothing on the shelves in that store was hand-blown.  Everything hand-blown was shipped to fancy stores around Europe, the Middle East and North America.  The cost of the shelf of goods my daughter just destroyed was about 5 euros.  HA!  Yes, our daughter was taken out of the store promptly, goods were paid for and we brought the entire staff cappuccinos for their trouble.  Again, this time, I lucked out.  Here's how we handled thereafter...

We have ALWAYS held one of our daughter's hands in a "breakable store" as we now call them, even today.  We no longer employ any free-range tactics when it comes to entering a store of goods that might cost more than my life insurance.  Additionally, we preface entering into these stores with, "everything here is highly breakable.  you are not to touch anything, just as you don't want your paper dolls and babies at home touched.  Got it?".  Finally, we reward the good behavior, EVERY TIME.  Our daughter now gets the treat of her choice after exiting one of these "breakable stores" or to do an activity of her choosing.  I figure this is give and take, she puts of with my endless browsing of delftware and I will gladly put up with a trip to the toy store to browse.  

Word to the wise:  hold a hand.  Don't assume the fancy stuff isn't out on display, and never underestimate of an empathetic glass blower.

* hint for those planning on visiting Nachtmann, there's a factory outlet just past the main outlet open Fridays.  Bring a vat form, GO EARLY, they have glasses starting at 1 euro!  Click the link above for the address!

- Shelby Van Voris

<![CDATA[I kissed Mr. Bean, and I liked it]]>Fri, 02 Oct 2015 08:02:45 GMThttp://www.shelby-vanvoris.com/the-mommy-chronicles-of-a-chronic-traveler/i-kissed-mr-bean-and-i-liked-itPicture
Oktoberfest in Munich is a must-do, for anyone who doesn't mind seeing vomit, blood and the occasional public display of coitus.  I thought I'd seen it all, and then I went to Oktoberfest...

Our child's godfather (we'll call him Buck) came in for a week during our first year in Germany.  At the time, we were living close to Munich and decided to pick him up at the airport and head straight to Oktoberfest. Rule #1 don't walk in jet-lagged.  This idea didn't go as planned, poor Buck was yawning his way through Oktoberfest.

While I'm at it, Rule #2: don't drive to Oktoberfest, take the train and just wait in line. We walked into the Paulaner tent around 11am.  Easy enough, there were adorable Bavarian dancers on stage and the crowd wasn't at all rowdy.  I was wondering why our babysitter kept repeating:  "Stay near the exits, and know how to get out of the tent fast".  I'm a GROWN ADULT, I didn't need advice from a 17 year old girl. Rule #3, listen to your German babysitter, even if he/she is a teenager.

Next up, we headed into the Augustiner tent to meet friends of Buck.  They'd secured a table in the middle of the tent and were already 2 beers ahead of us.  I opted not to drink, since I was the driver.  I ordered a lemonade...and here comes Rule #4, Lemonade means 1/2 lemon soda 1/2 beer, also known as a "raddler" and doesn't taste at all like there's alcohol in it.

As the afternoon turned into evening, we met 5 British men, 3 of whom were named Sean. They showed up with funny masks of the Queen, Mr. Bean, and Obama. One of the Seans wearing the Mr. Bean mask asked for a kiss, my husband was amused and demanded he snap a photo (this is out of character for me, I'm an epidemiologist and REFUSE to smooch strangers). Hence the photo evidence attached. Remember, Rule #4?  I was beginning to feel a bit tipsy at this point.  I yelled over to my husband and Buck "can you please ask the waitress if someone else had touched my lemonade, I might have been roofied!".  One of the Seans replied, "lady, lemonade here is BEER!  PROST!"  And the whole table clanked glasses as I panicked.  I decided to step outside for some fresh air and to hunt down a bottle of water.

Annnnnd, here's Rule #5, do not leave your purse with friends or family in the tent when you leave. Once I exited the tent, entry would require both euro (I'd only taken a €5 bill with me) and a wait of an hour or more.  This is when I got sneaky, I decided to go to the back of the fence where the smoking section was located, assuming there would be a way in.  My alternate plan was to ask one of the smokers if they could locate my husband or Buck to get me back in...  Here's Rule #6, you may witness coitus at Oktoberfest, do not panic, keep walking.  I was between the tents weaving my way to the smoking section. It was quite dark at this point and there was only about 3 feet of space.  I stepped on something, I couldn't exactly see what until I realized: I'd stepped on a couple having sex.  The guy who I'd stepped on grumbled something I couldn't quite make out, jumped up pants-less, and began chasing me.  I think I only ran maybe 15 feet, and then I tripped...over YET ANOTHER COUPLE HAVING SEX.  And then, I screamed.  The second couple I encountered was far more drunk than the first, neither them appeared bothered, in fact they asked me my name and where I was from....  OH GOD.  The pants-less gentleman who was chasing me 10 seconds before realized his partner was putting her clothes on and lost interest in me.  I jumped up, apologized making squeaky cry/laughing noises, and continued towards the back of the tent.  

There stood Buck at the back of the tent, waiting for the bathroom!  "Buck, can you have them let me back in???  My purse is in there", I screamed at him.  Buck quickly made his way to the entrance of the tent, as did I avoiding the sex-alley this time.  And I was able to return to our seats and promptly sprayed hand sanitizer over every inch of exposed skin.  Bathing in Clorox Bleach suddenly sounded like a good idea.

The tent had grown rowdier while I was gone.  Everyone was standing on the fest tables and benches singing "Sweet Caroline" in unison.  The next moment is a bit of a blur...  I felt a jab in my back. Quickly, I scanned around trying to figure out how to get away; OUCH, another jab, this one was harder.  However, there was no where to go (I think this moment, brought back to sobriety).  Channeling Catwoman, I jumped onto the fest table and whipped around: a full-blown fight had started with about 7-9 participants.  I screamed at Buck, who was a decorated boxer (and, unbeknownst to him, being felt up by several random women).  My husband was at the other end of the table, sandwiched between the Seans. Unable to move.  Buck, leans over me and screams "jump into the crowd", so I did, squarely landing on my elbow and hip, producing painful strawberry burns that would last for weeks to come. 

The fight was progressing, and consuming more tables of drunk men like a wild fire.  At this point, a dozen or so were actively fighting one another.  I was a mere 3 feet from it, trapped by other tourists screaming "fight" in their respective languages.  My husband, having made his way out of the Sean-Sandwich planted himself in front of me as Buck was attempting to diffuse things.  Somehow, in the chaos, a young passer by not realizing there was a brawl going on, was punched less than 1 foot from my face. Everything slowed down, like a final fight scene of Rocky (YO' Adrian!):  I saw the fist, slowly and steadily headed towards this kid's nose. His nose flattened like a pancake--and I was covered in his blood. Rule #7, bring hand sanitizer, tissues, wet wipes and lysol to Oktoberfest.  I immediately began dousing myself in my to-go bottle of lysol, then began wiping the blood off with a combination of wet-wipes and hand sanitizer + tissues.  The blood was my last straw, I told my husband and Buck "we're out, I'm sober and I am too OLD for this crap".  As we exited Oktoberfest, I received lots of stares and giggles. I turned to my husband and asked why, he laughed and said "you've missed the blood on your face". At that very moment, a policeman walked by muttering "damned tourists".

<![CDATA[Biggest fails:  my confession]]>Tue, 14 Jul 2015 10:01:31 GMThttp://www.shelby-vanvoris.com/the-mommy-chronicles-of-a-chronic-traveler/biggest-fails-my-confession
I've made some monster packing blunders traveling with an infant/child.  Really, really big ones.  Nothing like forgetting formula, diapers, pacifiers.  As your eyes grow wide, let me explain.  I'm a last minute packer.  I don't think I just shove.  I traveled as a child with two well-organized parents, so I was used to two adults preparing for me.  Wait a minute, someone told me I was now the adult.  Cue Hall and Oats song "say it isn't so".  Yeah, well, I'm 37 and I just feel like a stretch-mark-ier (is that a word?  It is now!) version of myself at 16.  So, without my organized parents to watch over my packing, preparation and every move whilst traveling, I've made some HORRIFYING mistakes over the years.

1.  Diapers or extra underwear.  It was our first trip after we moved to Europe, we decided to go to Venice for a long weekend.  Had plenty of diapers in that diaper-bag-thing (I somehow thought this was like Mary Poppins bag and they just replenished themselves), and blam, smack in the middle of Venice I realized I didn't have a diaper to my name.  Not to worry, I had an extra t-shirt in that diaper-bag-thingy and used that until we returned to mainland.  In my mind one doesn't buy diapers in Venice, only fantastic food and hand-blown glass or cameos.  Approximately 1 hour after giving our daughter her 3rd gelato, another brilliant idea, I heard a rumble from the backpack carrier.  The sound reminded me of the sound of Mt. St. Helens when it blew in 1980.  There was the sensation of being wet on my back, when I reached back to feel it, I realized there were chunky bits.  Moral of the story:  a t-shirt doesn't double as a diaper and do not give you baby 3 scoops of ice cream within 1 hour.

2.  The iPad, fully loaded.  I'm an organic loving, make-it-all-myself type of mom.  But I am NOT above using the electronic babysitter for a wee one.  When our daughter was 22 months, we decided to hop on a plane and head to Norway and Sweden.  As we got on the plane, our daughter began yelling "I want go home and play with Max-ie" (our beloved french bulldog).  Being that well-organized mom, I whipped out the iPad.  Ready to watch some Wonder Pets (really, this show makes me want to shoot myself in the face).  Low and behold, I forgot I'd wiped the iPad of kid-friendly shows and had loaded "Total Recall" for my husband and I (don't judge, it was on sale for $0.99) and "the Real Housewives of New York City".  So, what did we watch for 2 hours?  Countess LuAnn telling everyone how to properly behave.  I swear, my daughter still squeals "look, I'm a Real Housewife" four years later.  Photo evidence attached.

3.  Extra clothing, as a carry-on.  In January 2014, we headed to Jordan to visit friends stationed there.  My planning skills have slowly improved (my learning curve isn't steep, more like rolling hills of Ohio).  I'd packed snacks, extra shoes, lots of clothing, coloring books, our string...  I was proud of myself!  I'd got this whole packing for kids down, without my mother helping!  Our return from Jordan was scheduled at 11:45pm.  Don't ask me why, Air France has some weird flight times out of Amman.  So, of course, we get on the plane with the fully loaded iPad, the string, the crayons, the snacks...but are all utterly exhausted.  We curl up and fall asleep.  About two hours into the four hour flight, my daughter says "mom, we've got a problem".  She'd peed on the seat, into her shoes, on my shoes, on my husband's pants, onto our backpacks.  And, who didn't pack extra clothing?  THIS AWESOME MOM.  To boot, it's January in Europe, so everything is cold indoors and out.  What do I do?  Steal the blanket (yes, I sent it back to air france washed and with a thank you note), wrap the blanket around our child's waist and hoped for the best.  

4.  Comfort stuff.  There's nothing more brilliant than getting on a plane with an infant, WITHOUT a pacifier.  When our daughter was 13 months old, she and I flew into New York City to visit friends.  There was a couple sitting next to us who'd given me the stink eye upon announcing "that's our seat".  The lady said to me within 3 minutes of sitting down "I hate babies".  My snarky response was "well, I kinda do too, we should be friends", obviously untrue as I had one and adore her!  Anyway, about 30 minutes into the flight my daughter began fussing, clearly her ears were hurting.  I dug into my diaper-bag-thingy that is supposed to pop out whatever I need, and oops, no pacifiers.  Great.  I'm sitting next to a lady who hates babies, with a baby on my lap, who sounds a bit like a macaque monkey.  Don't forget the pacifiers, teething toys, blankies or the like:  you will inevitably be seated next to a baby-hater (who, threatened to kill me during the flight) should you forget these critical items.

Again, as my learning curve is more like the rolling hills of Ohio and not the steep peak of Mt. Rainer, this is all a big work in progress.  As our daughter aged, life has gotten easier.  I now use Packing Pro, I wish that'd been around 6 years ago, I could have avoided having my life-threatened by a baby-hater.

- Shelby Van Voris
<![CDATA[Let it go...]]>Sat, 13 Jun 2015 08:19:04 GMThttp://www.shelby-vanvoris.com/the-mommy-chronicles-of-a-chronic-traveler/let-it-goGetting lost is an art form in our household.  We're skilled at wandering, forgetting the map and missing the major sites in a given location.  We've got MAD SKILLZ.  There's a caveat here though:  sometimes getting lost can be the most magical event, ever.

When wandering the countryside in Northern Germany a few years ago, we decided to go to a heritage center where we could explore nomadic German culture.  My husband, a proud German-American, was excited to see how his ancestors lived.  Being from the area and GPS-less at the time, and having been in logistics, he figured he'd look up the center and figure it out by sheer instinct.  This is where it gets hairy...

We drove up to the most charming valley, complete with cows, sheep and quaint farmhouses.  My husband suddenly announces "this is it" and we proceed down a dirt road.  Although, my gut was screaming "this isn't it, I really don't think a dirt road would be where we'd enter a heritage center that's supposed to be large and federally funded..." but I ignored it.  Along the dirt road there were several cows with large rings in their noses, so we stopped to snap photos as our daughter squealed with delight (she was about 3 at the time).  We stopped and smelled wild flowers and took selfies with a tiny waterfall in the background.  I fully expected Julie Andrews to come running out of the forest in the distance, THIS is what I imagined Germany to be:  rustic and charming.  

Proceeding further down the dirt road, it became muddy and rocky from the tiny waterfall run off.  There was the tiniest stream in front of us, through which I thought our little rental car could easily pass. WRONG!  The wheels got stuck in the mud in the Golf we'd rented and there wasn't a home in sight. CRAP.

After much "oh my god, what just happened" and "where the hell is this heritage center" and "we don't have food, we're going to die..." (visions of the movie "Alive" were swirling in my head.), we pulled it together.  Game plan was in effect:  we would lock up the car and collectively hike the 3 miles (or so, it could have been 10) back to the tiny main road and hope a vehicle passes.  There wasn't a single bar of cell service in the area and Julie Andrews was no where to be found.

As we walked, one of the quaint farmhouses appeared to have someone in it.  I squealed and said, I'll run up and ask for help.  NO BIG DEAL, right?  I ran up to the front door, an elderly woman opened it, I said in German "help please, our car is broken".  She grunted and slammed the door.  I knocked again, she screamed "I don't want any."  I knocked again, and said "I have a child!".  Suddenly the door whipped open again, her face changed to a softer less annoyed look of empathy.  She says in English "you don't have bible?"  I was confused, but said "no, no bible".  She laughed, she thought I was trying to convert her. Once we'd established that I wasn't a door to door preacher, she invited me in.  She called the neighbor, Klaus and introduced herself as Olga (not kidding!).  She said to bring my husband and daughter and wait in her living room.  She offered us a very old slice of cake (my husband whispered "you must eat this whether you like it or not" to me) and she carried on a conversation with my husband, who is a native german speaker.  

About 30 minutes later, Klaus knocks at the door.  Klaus gives Olga a hug and says "come with me".  We exited Olga's home after hugs and lots of wet kisses...only to see 2 donkeys and a cart.  Apparently, Klaus's tractor was at the mechanic and the donkeys would have to do.  After 30 minutes of attaching the car to the harness get up of the donkeys, ditching the cart, Klaus had my husband turn the car on and throw it into reverse.  My daughter, myself and Klaus were to push the front of the car while the donkeys were to pull from the rear.  Seemed reasonable, I'd assumed Klaus had done this 1000 times and didn't think much of it.  We pushed, including my 3 year old...no avail.  The car didn't budge.  After 15 minutes of trying, Klaus decided to get a 3rd donkey. After my husband and I sat staring at the wheels for a few minutes, we decided to start digging at the mud and replace that with gravel.  Our daughter loved the idea and began digging, wiping the mud on the front of her white dress.  After 15 minutes of digging, replacing what we'd dug with gravel, we decided to give it one last try before Klaus returned with a 3rd donkey (the two donkeys were still hooked up at the back).  

On the 3rd push, the car was free.  But, somehow the tether for the donkeys was also freed in the process and 2 donkeys went walking away.  My husband and I somehow managed to corral the damned donkeys and sat there waiting for Klaus, all three of us covered in mud.  10 minutes later, Klaus arrived with a beer, some honeycomb and crackers stating "the other donkey is too old to help, my wife said no". Once he realized we were freed of the stream, he gave us directions to the heritage center, approximately 30 minutes down the road and lots of honeycomb to eat en route.  We arrived at the heritage center, receiving grimaces and stares.  We were mud covered and had donkey crap all over our shoes.  We all agreed we had our own little slice of heritage in the charming valley 30 minutes away and decided to hunt down cake instead, returning to the hotel to do shadow puppets and clean ourselves up. Sometimes, getting lost teaches us more than finding what we hope to.
<![CDATA[Fat kids:  really?]]>Sat, 23 May 2015 09:11:25 GMThttp://www.shelby-vanvoris.com/the-mommy-chronicles-of-a-chronic-traveler/fat-kids-reallyCompanion piece on BLUNTmoms:  http://www.bluntmoms.com/call-kid-fat/

Unbeknownst to me, my child is “fat”. 

As I sat at a family dinner with a relative who shall remain nameless, these words were uttered to me through a smile:  your child is fat.   And there it was: judgment, handed to me in a tiny package fit for a breakfast at tiffany’s moment.  The contents though, were steeped in ignorance and not a silver spoon fit for Audrey Hepburn.

I spat out my water and replied, “who do you think you are?”.  To which this insightful family member replied “I am only concerned”.

Initially, my reaction was disbelief followed by rage.  I imagined taking said family member’s face and shoving it into the piping hot bowl of spaghetti before her, or taking her precious collectibles shoving them into the garbage disposal with the same curt smile she flashed at me as she muttered “your child is fat”.  Those words went off like churchbells in my head for the remainder of the meal.  My heart fluttered, my breath grew shallow.  Rage was inevitable, it was sneaking up on me like morning-sickness, and something I had no control over.

“She’s a preschooler, she will grow out of it” I replied.  My face was flush with anger, my voice was shaky attempting to control the word vomit I was about to release.  And then, it happened.  “Should we teach her the value of binge and purge now or wait until she enters first grade?” It didn’t stop there: “We’ve decided, thanks to your insight, to lock her in a closet with only lettuce and water for a week.  A good old fashioned fast is going to help her shed the extra 12 ounces she’d packed on since the last time we visited.”

Kids grow out, then up.  That’s just how it works.  Ask any realistic pediatrician.  I did, ours reminded us that our child would shoot up in the coming year and not to worry.   But, comments like this make every parent do a double take.  Is my kid fat?  Should I be keeping a food diary?  Our nutritionist, yes we hired one, said absolutely not. 

Having a “fat preschooler” is a badge I wear with pride now. Do I care what you think?  Not really.  She eats well, she’s in sports and she’s as sassy as they come.  My kid is exactly the RIGHT size. 

Next time you have a hankering to utter the words “your kid is fat” to someone, think twice.  Moms are observant creatures with a pension for word vomit and a deep seeded desire to take your valuables and shred them in response.

<![CDATA[Cannes & Cortisone Cream]]>Sat, 09 May 2015 11:53:01 GMThttp://www.shelby-vanvoris.com/the-mommy-chronicles-of-a-chronic-traveler/cannes-cortisone-creamCannes is the place to be in the summer here in Europe.  Just not the emergency room….

Driving to Cannes from Germany sucked, it was 9 hours of hell.  Our French bulldog had gotten into the snack cabinet the night before we departed.  The smells emanating from the back of my SUV reminded me of the morgue I once toured in college.  The poor dog would groan, fart, and then fell back asleep.  During hour 7, he began vomiting chunks of the cardboard and granola that hadn’t quite digested. 

Finally, after 5 stops the last two hours of the drive, we arrived in Cannes.  It smelled like fresh cut roses and the sea.  The weather was perfect, a warm 80F at midnight.  Although the pool looked inviting, we were all terribly exhausted and decided to hit the hay.  My husband and I took turns hauling in the gassy dog, the suitcases and the snacks the dog hadn’t yet got into until around 1am.  Everyone was exhausted and foggy.

Just as my husband exited the room to grab the last of the goods from the car, I asked our daughter to go brush her teeth.  She asked, “Mama, can I use your toothpaste?”.  She’s always considered my toothpaste the “big girl tooth paste”.  I nodded as I attempted to administer gas-X to the dog.  I could hear her in the bathroom brushing her teeth, retching.  I yelled “everything ok in there?” to which our daughter replied, “This toothpaste tastes bad”.  As my husband walked into the room, I asked him to check on our daughter in the bathroom.  The next words I heard were “OH SHIT”.

When I entered the bathroom, I immediately glanced over at the counter.  There was an open tube of cortisone cream!  My husband is ramming his finger down our daughter’s throat, squealing, “She’s brushed her teeth with cortisone! Call 112!”.  Oh lord.  It’s 1am, the dog is still gassy and gagging and our daughter has just ingested cortisone cream.  Nice.

Quickly, we all hustled back to our car, plugging the hospital address into the GPS. Ten minutes later, we arrived at the Cannes City Hospital.  The landscape was charming and the architecture was unassuming, not very hospital-like.  We entered the emergency entrance and went immediately to the front desk.  The staff jovial for 1:20am told me to have a seat.  They brought mounds of paperwork, and then asked “are you a private payer or public insurance,” I replied, “we’re private.  I can pay the bill in cash.”  Her eyes widened and she hustled back to her desk.  I looked at the other patients waiting:  a man had a gash in his leg spilling blood onto the floor; another woman was in labor and screaming.  I wondered if we were going to see the doctor before the cortisone took effect and causing convulsions (again, I’m a mom, it’s worst-case-scenario in my head at all times) and eventual paralysis.  The front desk staff returned and asked me for a €50 down payment.  My husband handed the woman €50 and she smiled. 

Five minutes later, a doctor calmly walked up to me, “Ms. Van Voris, I will be helping you, I’m Dr. B”.  Suddenly, the waterworks began:  “Dr. B, tell me she’s not going to die.  I swear, I am the world’s worst mother”.  He smiled, “no, cortisone will have no effect, but let’s check to be sure”.  We walked back to his office, I turned around and looked at the man with the gash in his leg—the pool of blood was getting bigger and he looked pale.  I then asked the doctor, “sir, what about the man there, he’s bleeding to death” the doctor wrinkled his nose and replied “he’s social insurance, that doctor is on break.”  Suddenly, I felt guilty.

Upon entering the doctor’s office, clearly in the private area, he then requested an additional €50.  We obliged, but asked why as we didn’t know what the bill yet would be.  He announced that we’d paid the initial €50 to the front desk, €50 was his fee, for which he couldn’t issue a receipt, plus a bill that would be sent to us in Germany.  He called the money “keeping our private patients healthy”.  I groaned. 

The doctor reviewed our child’s vital signs, spoke to her some and ended the visit with this:  “You are not the first American family who has come to me with a child using cortisone cream for toothpaste.  Perhaps your cortisone companies need to change the packaging”.  That cost me €210 to hear.

- Shelby Van Voris