A Bit about Coffee. Finally! A Plan We Can Live With.

After God blessed us with three babies at once, our household’s caffeine requirements shot up like a ’90’s dot com IPO.

From the first trip to the grocery store in Bavaria all the way to Scotland, we suffered through varying qualities of coffee. Unfortunately, we like our coffee with half and half. Oh! If only we liked our coffee black or none at all, our life would be simpler, albeit much poorer.


[a German half and half.  We were a bit surprised at the baby bear on it and thought we might have grabbed baby formula?]

You heard about our search for half and half and how it was in the dry goods aisle. What you may not know is that a similar scenario has been replayed in country after country. A little google search unveiled that American half and half is milk with 12 percent fat. Whipping cream is 20 to 50 percent fat according to the information I found. So, for a while, I would search the ingredient proportions and discover the milk with the closest milk/fat ratio to half and half. (attempting to read in a different language, of course)

The type of coffee making capability our rented apartments will furnish is also a mystery until we arrive. Sometimes, it’s a French press, sometimes (rarely) drip coffee, sometimes a Moka espresso pot,


sometimes they expect instant coffee with us using an electric tea kettle. In Scotland, we had our first full up espresso machine.

I know, it’s complicated.

IF you buy your coffee at a cafe, IF you know what to order, the resulting brew will probably be famously yummy. Didn’t these drinks originate in Europe, after all? Usually a cappuccino is a safe bet. Those are fairly standardized, it seems, so you get what you expect to get. In Germany, the “American” version of unsweetened latte is a macchiato for some reason. But, who has the time or money to go to a cafe for all their coffee? In the US, I would order black coffee and add half and half to keep the expense lower. Here, without half and half, that’s not a doable plan.

We find an instant love for the countries with the cheaper cappuccinos.  Paris and London were the most expensive, often about $4 or so.  In England, Grigg’s (fast food type place) was often a go-to p;ace across the city. 


[grabbing a Starbucks outside of St Paul’s cathedral in London]


[the all-important coffee break while getting our learning on at the British Museum]

In Budapest, the coffee shops are a bit more rare and maybe that’s why even the neighborhood bakery had a coffee vending machine.  Part of the reason is that the Communist government closed them down decades ago to prevent revolution fomenting among the back booths.  I read that in a guidebook somewhere, so it must be true.  The cafes are definitely making a comeback there. 


We found great, cheap coffee out of those automatic machines in Budapest.  All across Europe, McDonald’s have a McCafe inside with lots of coffee options and pastries. 


Poland held its own in the affordable cappuccino category.  In Italy, you pay more to sit down at a table.  So, everyone stands up at the counter in the morning, drinks their coffee and eats their little pastry.  In Salzburg and Vienna, coffee is a kind of artistry and they take their cafes very seriously.




[a Vienna mobile espresso cart to get your caffeine fix while on the go]

Coffee even comes with a sidecar of water here and in Bratislava too. 


In Ireland, your kids grab the green food coloring and make you a leprechaun coffee when you’re not looking. 



Coffee machines are often an option. These machines are something that we would steer widely clear of in the USA. Here, they are more prolific and occasionally to be enjoyed. The coffee they produce is more likely to be sweetened and may have more local names. That means we will not understand what we are ordering.  It’s a little coffee roulette.

Once we arrived in the UK, our hopes for half and half further deteriorated.  Here, evidently their cream needs vary dramatically from the continent or the US.  My first attempt at half and half resulted in a solid product when I opened it at home.  Yuck.  For a while we used a rich, rich milk that seemed to turn sour rather quickly.  I think it was pasteurized.  That worked in London, sort of.  By the time we got to Scotland, that rich milk wasn’t an option (I didn’t see any equivalent in the stores).  Even though we speak the same language, we struggled.  They have a single cream and a double cream.  These have a relatively high fat content.  One cup is good, two cups make you never want cream again (but not quite want black coffee).  Finally, a new friend from church in Scotland, an American transplant, confirmed that half and half just isn’t a product they use here.

How then shall we live?

Inspired by coffee at our friends’ the Wingfields and the Bulises, we realized that frothed whole milk  (or even other fat percentages), produced a satisfying cup of morning joe.  Of course we can’t travel with a huge frother. 


But, this little piece of kitchen equipment is small and portable and gets the job done.  Yes, yes, Grandma Shirley bought us one of these years ago.  And, yes, yes, packing it from New Jersey did not even cross my mind.  How was I to know?

We could give up coffee all together.  But I don’t think we need to take that drastic of a measure yet.  One added benefit of the frother is that the kids LOVE it! They compete to make our coffee. Inadvertently, we created four little coffee slaves who never tire of frothing our milk for us (or themselves). They even froth their own milk, for kicks.  We still enjoy waking up to the smell of coffee and now I think we have a coffee way forward, at last.

Breathe easy, friends.


The Dingle Peninsula

Our family was overjoyed for our friend Amy and her huge smile to come out to Ireland from Oklahoma.  We literally danced our best version of an Irish jig to welcome her to the Priory.  It may not have been the best Irish jig in the world but hey, no one fell down.  You won’t believe the instructional videos you can find on this little, secret website called YouTube.


She delighted us with her contagious spirit and far more gifts than we’d imagine her bag could hold. 


As a trained physical therapist, she brought a foam roller that I rolled around on like a beached manatee.  She even unveiled some dexterity putty (read “Silly Putty-like stuff you squeeze and can’t let go of”) to help exercise Lisa’s slowly recovering broken fingers.  If you recall, Lisa had broken them on the first day we departed her parents’ Texas house headed for Europe.  Since we are essentially in the middle of a large move going the “long way ‘round” from NJ to Oregon, we pulled up to a Pak N’ Ship to mail a box full of books.  As she lifted the back tailgate the heaviest box came tumbling out of the stuffed mini van and she put out a hand to catch it.  Unfortunately, several fingers were bent back far enough to cause some trauma. 

I know, I know, why wasn’t I the one unloading the heavy box?  It’s shameful isn’t it?  My only defense is that Lisa dashed out of the car to start getting things moving.  That’s a pretty weak defense I know, I definitely should have thrown my body in front of that box like a Secret Service agent.  She still managed to wrangle the boxes onto a cart as I was yabbering on an incoming phone call and insisted she could do it!  She hasn’t said a word about it but I know when God plays that one on the big movie screen of ‘Your Life’ someday I’m going to be trying to crawl out of the theater.  Thank God there’s grace.

Amy also brought a few awesome things for the peeps from the good ‘ol USA.  Who can resist bath bubble stuff?


Or little balls that grow into water and you can’t stop running them through your fingers?

Lisa fell in love with the essential oils that Amy lovingly explained and hand carried to us.  The Europeans use essential oils quite a bit more than we do in the States.  We’ve found them to uber-helpful for all kinds of reasons and maladies and grown to love them. 

We wanted to explore a bit of Ireland with her so we set off for the Dingle peninsula on the coast further west.  The town of Dingle boasts a scenic harbor location and a location within a Gaeltacht.  A Gaeltacht is an area recognized by the government of Ireland that uses Irish as its vernacular, or language of the home.  These regions are the bastions of Gaelic survival in Ireland and are all in the western part of the country.  The government gives the areas additional tax support and since 2005—controversially—puts up all road signage in Gaelic.  The government is also promoting the use of Gaelic through subsidizing special radio and TV programs to keep the flame of Irish alive despite the onslaught of English. 

The drive from Killarney to Dingle is only about an hour west further out onto one of Ireland’s ‘fingers’ that reach out towards Amerikay across the North Atlantic.  But the beauty of the place frequently reaches in and snatches the steering wheel over into scenic viewpoints.  I had the adults, and even the kids, promise to yell if they ever saw me pull out onto the “right” side of the road.  It’s easiest to lull yourself into old habits when there’s no else around and you think you’ve got the road to yourself. 







Then we happened upon the ancient beehive huts.  Many of the prehistoric sites in Ireland have been dated as older than the Pyramids.  These beehive huts are the kind of dwellings those ancient people fashioned.  Flat stones are carefully piled with a cant so that the rain runs away from the inner walls.  All you hear is the wind.  Sheep lazily graze on the sloping, green grass. 

IMG_8985 IMG_8986







I found this helpful explanation on an Irish tourism website, “They [the huts] were built in the form of a circle of successive strata of stone, each stratum lying a little closer to the center than the one beneath and so on up to a small aperture at the top that could be closed with a single small flagstone or capstone. No mortar was used in building, which is called corbelling.”

The huts are tough to date since this style of building was used from 3100 BC for the mysterious Newgrange tomb north of Dublin to the 1950s.  Newgrange is the prehistoric burial mound with a long corridor built right through the middle.  The corridor is angled to only allow the rays of dawn into the middle of the tomb during the few days around the winter solstice once a year. 



Arriving in Dingle town, a light rain greeted us as we parked the car and hustled toward the brightly colored buildings of downtown. 




The town library sheltered us for a few minutes from the increasing rain.  We ran up the hill to a cafe recommend by the guidebook.  On our way there, it began to pour.  We ran faster.  The rain seeped through the thighs of my pants.  We reached our objective, and the cafe was closed.  We asked a local hurrying by about another place and she recommended Adams Bar down the street.  We shouted to one another to head that way. We found it and ducked inside a tiny room of dark wooden panelling.  Every table full.  Standing just inside the door, we dripped-dripped a mess onto the floor and the other diners stared at us from an arms-length away.

Then the most remarkable thing happened.  The proprietor came out, greeted us, told us she was sorry for how wet we were and turned the heat lamps on in her unheated, overflow room down her hallway.  


She helped us set out our wet jackets, hats and gloves to dry.  Since the room was not warm enough to eat in, she suggested another bar down the street.  While inviting us to use the restrooms, she offered the kids free hot cocoa!    Some patrons at the bar left and we somehow found a way to fit at one end of the bar and into the window seat.  We saw later she’d moved the wettest jackets onto the radiators for us.  The delicious, hot stew and an Irish coffee warmed me up from the inside and all was right with the world again.


The sky brightened, the sun came out and we went back out on that street amazed at the friendliness of the Dingle people and this pub built in the 1600s.


We were touched by her thoughtfulness and generosity and told her thank you.  She pointed out that we could find them on Trip Advisor.  I often check Trip Advisor when traveling in the States but here it is absolutely ubiquitous.  Restaurants, hotels, all kinds of businesses will frame their TA certificate and put in their window.  Guides will give you a business card with their TA name so you can easily find them online to review them.  Of course, we later found the Adams Bar. 

We picked our way down through town, stopping to take in the town’s church.  Generations of nuns rest in peace under the comforting reaches of a dignified churchyard oak. 






The ladies stop in to check on the stores.  The boys shoot each other with their constant companions—invisible guns. 






Down by the waterfront, we find the famous Murphy’s ice cream shop. 





Yes, some of those flavors do say Caramelized Brown Bread and Toasted Irish Oats.  They craft their ice cream with sea salt they dry from the local salt water, milk from their own indigenous Kerry cows and all the old-fashioned ways.  Great shots of this little Irish company on their website at http://www.murphysicecream.ie/.  I stole this one myself showing Dingle in County Kerry. 

Dingle countykerry

Driving back home to Killarney we take the long, scenic way and are rewarded with views of the sea meeting the crags beneath the last rays of sun wrestling through the clouds. 





Here, it feels like you are driving off the end of the world.  Though I’m driving, I fight the urge to lean into the upslope for fear of falling off into the tumbling sea.  People used to live on these islands just off this coast till finally having to trade in this hard-fought lifestyle.  In the 19th century, some of the few Irish to really escape the potato famine were island people insulated from the vagaries of potatoes by the fruits of the sea.    

Hoping to visit the Gallarus Oratory, we jaunt off away from the coast and peer around hedges before pulling out into one lane roads. We find the ancient place of worship just before being chased off by the darkness.


[the oratory on a sunnier day from an online shot]

The church is built of the corbelling method of flat stones perfectly cut to fit together and resembles an overturned boat’s hull.  It is pitch dark inside and you half expect someone to be waiting in there to whisper “Boo” at just the wrong time.  It dates to around the 12th century but could be far older. 

We defy the threatening clouds, run back to the safety of the car and wind our way back to the blessings of Killarney, our house, our dinner table and the warmth of our beds.

We loved you Scotland, now on to the Emerald Isle!


Rolling the bags out of North Berwick, I ran back to drop off the key after finding it hiding in my front pocket.  Later, I wondered if it was a subconscious desire to hold onto that place.  It felt like people were almost waving goodbye to us as we lugged our bags to the train station.  North Berwick, and its people—even Scotland itself—got under our skin.  We were sad to leave, but excited about the Emerald Isle on the horizon. 

We took our familiar train to Edinburgh then a short Ryan Air flight to Dublin.  Who’s afraid of a little discount airline?  Who needs seatback pockets or seats that recline?  


Not us, though we’ve certainly learned about the tighter baggage policies of European airlines.  Most of the tickets have a limit of 15 kg (~33 lbs) of checked bag per ticket so our family can pool together our 90 kg for all our bags. We write down our weights each time so we can keep track of how close we are. The flight weight limits help us be mindful of the weights of anything we might pick up (read “books”). It’s a microcosm of moving every few years in the military.  You only get a certain weight allowance and if you have enough kids and live in a house you are bound to be thinking about the weight of the things you accumulate.

Onboard the flight, the airline has transformed the flight attendants into a retail sales force. They announce a ticket sale then go down the aisle selling scratch-off “lottery” tickets to benefit charity.  I’m not sure how much of the funds go to charity but it seems a strange place to get all the details.  Hmmm, better just keep reading my book and avoid eye contact.  

The flight attendants also push another cart along to sell duty-free perfumes and colognes. I think alcohol too.  I must be missing the boat here, I don’t seem to get on an airplane intending to stock up on perfume.  I’m about as likely to buy a puppy onboard.  Come to think about it, that would bring a lot more smiles to passengers’ faces. You can almost see the airline promotion now, “Come fly the tail-waggin’ skies with us. If you win the musical chairs event, you could take home a new family member!”  

What about selling those travel-size toiletries after security just confiscated your wee-bit-too-large bottle of whatever?  Or that souvenir from that location that you just departed and never had time to get?  Or a travel electrical adaptor since you probably forgot one of yours at home?  Or a map of the upcoming city or the airport terminal so you can find the Cinnabon, the bookstore, the Jamba Juice and the Starbucks and still make your connection in 15 minutes? Or maybe the cologne actually is a good idea for the stinky passenger two rows up.  Maybe thats why the family behind us sent me the box of cologne? (just kidding)

To keep costs down, RyanAir utilizes lower-cost airports about an hour or two outside of the city.  So you get to hang out at understandably, less well-known places like Rome’s Ciampino and Paris’ Beauvais airport.  But we love those low fares! And the pace of the smaller airports seems a good fit for the small people with us, as well. We’re finding RyanAir short-haul flights for $30-40 a seat including bags and that really helps balance the ice cream part of the budget.  

We arrived into Dublin late and knowing it would be too far to make it to southwest Ireland (include a map) we stayed at an airport hotel on the outskirts of Dublin.

We grabbed a Subway sandwich for the first time since leaving the States and enjoyed the lady’s accent behind the counter.  She was Latvian.  Our hotel desk workers were Polish and as we talked to more of the folks and read a bit we learned that Ireland’s second most spoken language is not Gaelic as I would have guessed.  It’s Polish.  

The Celtic Tiger years of 1995-2000 drew people from all over, especially those from Central/Eastern Europe seeking better opportunities.  On this planet, economics affects about everything, doesn’t it?  During the Celtic Tiger years, Ireland was booming and the economy averaged over 9% growth a year.  From what we read, the Irish, being accustomed to sending emigrants abroad for good jobs now were surprised to find immigrants arriving on their shores and into their economy.  Things began to pull back in 2001 with GDP growth averaging about 5% for the next six years.  

Then the global crisis struck, popped their property price bubble, and much has slowed down here in Ireland and across Europe, really.  We keep hearing different perspectives on this story from people all over Europe.  

full english

However, the next morning we enjoy some of the “full English” breakfast at the hotel.  Now, that’s a breakfast!  For those that aren’t familiar a traditional full English breakfast includes bacon (traditionally back bacon), poached or fried eggs, fried or grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, fried bread or toast with butter, sausages and baked beans, usually served with a mug of tea. As nearly everything is fried in this meal, it is commonly called a “fry-up”.  Local variations include the Irish substituting soda bread, the Scots occasionally throwing in tattie scones, haggis and black pudding.  

Then it’s off on the train from Dublin to get to Killarney. 


[guarding the bags during the requisite pre-transport trip to the facilities]

Sitting in our seats preparing to leave the station, we were beginning to get used to the idea of convenient Euro train travel from city center to city center without checking in 2 hours prior at an airport or dealing with traffic.  A father and son, who looked like they might have been slightly small ex-Notre Dame football players, walked up to our seats.  The Dad quickly pointed out we were in their seats.  Lisa and I did not know what he was talking about since we’d purchased “coach” style seats on trains now for two whole legs—we were experts.  Then, he pointed to the “wall” of the train and sure enough, there was a tiny LCD set of names.  The letters were no more than 3 cm high.  We moved over and they settled in.  They’d been in Dublin for the big rugby match and were returning to Cork.  The father spent much of the trip attempting to convince his teenage son of the merits of medical school.   


[Lisa knitting up that scarf]


[trains, beautiful girls and ebooks–a great combination]

We’d chosen Killarney as our base in the southwest of Ireland since that region is said to contain a lot of “true” Ireland. 


[the surprisingly small Killarney train station and a first introduction to Gaelic or “Irish”]

This part of Ireland boasts the Ring of Kerry, the picturesque town of Dingle and the landscapes of Killarney National Park.  


Our now-typical vacation rental search had turned up “The Priory” a place its owners billed as having been built for a French noblemen fleeing the French Revolution.  That story sounded great to us.  The reality was even better.  The place had been lived in by our hosts, Tim and Bernadette and their kids, before they renovated and moved next door.  So it felt like, and was, a home. 






It was a 1.5 km walk to town center but we had an upstairs, a downstairs, three bedrooms, a laundry room and enough turf to burn for ten winters. 


The dark and lightweight turf is carved out of the sod and we hear some Irishmen will burn it even in summer to lure that distinctive smell.  The turf burns hot and puts out a lot of smoke if you don’t close the wood stove door fast enough.  The kids loved to bring in the turf and the wood and to split the small logs with the hatchet.  


Sometimes, you’ve just gotta rubber band the head of your wooden axe back on and get down to some choppin’.


A short walk to catch glimpses of the “neighborhood” and the heights of Killarney National Park just down the road.



[horse carriages or “jaunting cars” that take tourists from Killarney town center to the National Park and back]


Yours truly renting a car with the steering wheel on the other side.  Watch out for those right turns across the intersection!


My apologies for leaving you hanging the last few weeks, as we were go-go-go during a tremendous visit with Lisa’s sister and brother and a beautiful stay with our friends the Weinsteins that I’ll tell you about later.   Then, we grappled with some relatively complex trip planning.  What should a family travel itinerary in Israel look like and who can help you build that plan?  Thank you for the help on that front.  And, after Israel, where to go exactly in Asia?  We’d developed a hole in our itinerary a while back upon learning that China wanted more than $1000 in entrance visas alone for our family.  So, flying to SE Asia from Israel presents some interesting connections to think through.  Do you put the family through Moscow even without a Russian transit visa?  If the aircraft is severely delayed would you end up Snowden-style living in the airport?  Is this a good time to connect through the Ukraine?  I wasn’t so sure about a long layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia even if it was the cheapest ticket.  We’d had to make a tough choice to visit Greece over Turkey but now should we try and get a few days in Istanbul? 

The world is still a big place.  We’ve had to keep narrowing the countries and cities that we want to experience.  It seems smaller and smaller in the digital realm but is vastly enormous when you look to move the family around.  A little time on the road gives you a powerful sense of appreciation for the courage of ancient explorers.

Happy ones in Ireland!


[Ana soaking up a Horrible History]


[Will soaking up a little heat.  Note the one bucket for turf and another for wood]