Happy St. Patrick’s Day from this American Mutt

I am going to go full American on you for a minute. Or two. Bear with me. But it’s Saint Patrick’s Day. And with 32.3 million¹ self-proclaimed Irish-Americans, myself included, it’s our day to do so. That’s 1 in 10 Americans people. But wait. Isn’t St. Patrick’s Day Irish? Like from IRELAND. Yes. Yes. It is. Did you see what I did there? Claimed it for my own? Pretty American eh? Hang on. Don’t be offended yet. Let me explain.

Saint Patrick’s Day is kind of a pretty big deal in the United States and my given name is Erin Kathleen. Kind of Irish. My brother is Michael Shannon and my other brother is Colin Patrick. We had an Irish Setter named “Paddy” growing up. And as cliche, groan-worthy or just downright confusing as it may sound to actual Irish people, every year on March 17th my mom made corned beef and cabbage, soda bread and a side of green jello salad. I now know how Irish-American that meal is. Especially the lime jello. There was nothing grown from the earth in that “salad,” just saying. My own children made leprechaun traps at school and my sister in law puts green food coloring in the toilet as “evidence” of their sneaky appearance overnight. Think of it like the “Elf on the Shelf” of March. Thanks Pinterest. March 17th is a big day. To us Irish-Americans. “Kiss me, I’m Irish.”

Where Irish Eyes are Smiling[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

So when my husband was recently asked to fly to Ireland for a meeting, I jumped at the chance to join. With a day in Dublin to explore by myself, I set across the Ha’Penny bridge to Trinity College and on to St. Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street. It was sunny and blue-skied with birds chirping and daffodils poking open. Brilliant. I thought I’d found my pot of gold, sans the rainbow. Lunch with an Irish friend and her mother proved just the craic I was seeking. (That’s Irish for awesome.) It was quite a quick trip and by no means a tour of essential Ireland or even Dublin for that matter, but it whet my appetite (as well as my whistle) and kick-started a desire to dive into my family’s Irish past.

Walking past the National Library of Ireland with signs asking “What Will You Find Today?” I was pulled inside to discover the most beautiful green domed reading room. AND. The genealogy room. And Christina. The most knowledged and friendly and helpful librarian in all of Ireland. Ok. I’ve only met one. But she was fabulous. And when I told her my name was Erin and what I was searching for, she smiled and understood. She knows how to find your Irish relatives. If you have them, that is.

To start the process of mining the free databases of Ireland’s National Library, you do need to come armed with a few essential facts. Like names. That’s usually a good place to start. After a few quick direct messages to family members in the States, I soon had the full names of my Grandfather’s parents. This was where I had always believed our Irish family roots had relied. Christina helped me discover that I am from… where? Uh. Missouri. Yep. Oh. Ok. I mean, I knew we were from Kansas. But I now know that we go back further to Missouri. That’s. Like. Next to Kansas. Ok. So I’m Midwestern. Got it. Thanks to Ireland did I discover exactly what I already knew. Ok. But why then was St. Patrick’s Day such a big deal in our house every year?

I thanked Christina profusely and left the library still befuddled. My confusion was salved soon enough by an excellent meal with my husband at a lovely pub in Stoneybatter. If in Dublin, don’t miss L. Mulligan Grocer – so yummy (and not actually a grocery store). We returned home to Copenhagen the next day and I was determined to discover the basis for our annual familial obsession with corned beef. I mean my mom brought corned beef in her carry on bag for a spring break vacation in the Bahamas. The Bahamas people. She didn’t think she’d be able to find it down there. Talk about a confused customs agent. What is this? Um. Corned beef. You know. For St. Patrick’s Day. Ok. Keep moving.

For about two days straight I poured through scans of United States Federal census records from the early 1900’s and late 1800’s. It’s all online. It’s remarkable. And right there in the hand-written lists from 1880, the evidence I was seeking. My grandfather’s father’s father. He wasn’t from Missouri. He. He was from Ireland. And so was his wife. Where in Ireland I can’t confirm. Yet. Time to revisit with Christina! My husband was also quite pleased to have discovered that he is actually MORE Irish than me. His Grandfather’s father emigrated from Sweden with his Irish wife. Along with the Irish and Swedish, we uncovered evidence of English, German, Scottish and Swiss emigrants in the family. So as it turns out, we’re all mutts. American. In the words of Will Farrell reenacting his George W. Bush character in an opening monologue on Saturday Night Live,

“The way I see it, unless your name is Running Bear or Chief Two Rivers, we’re all anchor babies.”

– Will Farrell as George W. Bush, SNL

As an American living in Europe for the last 3.5 years, it has been made plainly clear to me that my claims of heritage are constant sources of amusement to the growing collection of International friends I spend time with. If I were to ever say I’m not just American, but “Irish-American” or that my husband is “Swedish-American,” it is cringeworthy and may even induce eye rolling. (PS – I don’t actually say that.) But I have learned, quite quickly, that where you are from in the International community is a truly complicated thing.

Where are you from? The answer, as it turns out, is relative. What are you asking me? Where was I born? What does my passport say? Where have I lived? Where did I move HERE from? What answer are you looking for? And why do you want to know?

Here is actually the crux of the question. Why do I want to know? Why do I care? Where people are “from?” I think this is the essentially American part of the question. We’re a relatively young country. And for me, as this is our first posting abroad, my answer is simple. I’m from America. Although I rarely have to tell anyone as my ubiquitous accent reveals it immediately whenever I speak. Ah. You’re American. Yep. Stamp on my forehead.

I live in Copenhagen. Denmark. Happiest country of hygge, Lego, beautiful lighting and a healthy bicycle lifestyle. But I’m not Danish. Can’t even claim the tiniest bit of Danish heritage. Because of my husband’s name, Gustafson, everyone assumes we are Swedish. We went to Stockholm, we saw Kong Gustav. It didn’t necessarily feel like home. But we do love Sweden. (And can claim a bit of heritage there per recent genealogy traces.)

Back here in Denmark, we have adopted and adapted lots of the Danish lifestyle and appreciate Danish approaches to life and living. We don’t have a car. We ride our bikes and the bus. Every day. Even on Saturday. And while we don’t speak fluent Danish (it’s really hard!) we can get around the grocery store without Google translate and always remember to put down the divider after our goods. That’s important here. We’re fitting in. Or trying to. We have an advantage we look like the locals. Until we speak, the assumption is that we’re local. I’m more than aware as a foreigner living here of the connotations that come with titles like “expat” or “immigrant” or “refugee.” They are just as pertinent and ultimately defining in Denmark as they are in the US.

Our ability to stay here in the seemingly delightful Denmark isn’t definitive. Every day, it seems, this little Scandi country is making it more difficult to gain access to all things Danish. Those specifically Scandinavian benefits of free universal healthcare and free higher education that come with residency, be it permanent or temporary – they are a challenge to secure. These are benefits that you want to hold on to when your job is based here.

We recently received a reminder that our carefree (gun-free) idyllic bicycled life here is not a given. Our residency permits are expiring. Soon. A dramatically worded letter addressed only to my youngest two children alerted us to the urgency of this fact. If we don’t apply for extensions, like yesterday, we can and will be forcibly removed from one of the happiest countries on earth. That doesn’t sound so happy. Or hyggeligt. Remind you of somewhere else you might know?

Don’t worry, we are submitting all of our paperwork and getting our Danish ducks in a row. We will be required to have our mugshots registered (again) and our fingerprints taken (again) and our signatures signed and sealed. Again. To be able to live here. It is a visceral process that enforces your NOT belonging. Not really. You are not us. It will be a very difficult process to be us. Remember that.

And maybe this is why I find the question of where you are from interesting and important. For me, it is less of an identifier or classifier or separator and more of a connector. Maybe it’s because I have moved so many times. Each time forced to make connections in the next “home.” The more we can identify with each other, the closer we can become.

So the next time you meet an American who claims Irish heritage or Dutch heritage or Scottish or Korean or Kenyan, even if they’ve never been to those places or spoken one word of the native tongue or even remember the names of those distant relatives, embrace it. You want Americans to connect outside their borders. I want Americans to connect outside our borders. I do not want walls. And I believe in bridges and love and acceptance.

Maybe give them a little gentle lesson in actual cultural heritage. Explain to them that you would never serve corned beef and cabbage at a real Irish celebration and you’ve never had green jello or colored your toilet water green. Or the milk for that matter. But you do drink Guinness. And you will wear green and possibly attend a parade today. 100,000 expected to line the streets of Dublin! And give them an opportunity to show you the diversity that makes up the melting pot called the USA.

We won’t be serving corned beef tonight in Denmark. My husband tried to find some and truly couldn’t. Darn it. But it’s ok because I will be raising a glass with women from around the world at my International Cooking Club dinner. We’re making Thai tonight. And while it may not be my traditional March 17th meal, it will be a celebration of culture and heritage and friendships. Beyond borders. With friends from Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Chile, Germany, Poland who have lived in as many more countries and have multiple answers to “where are you from?” and make my community in Denmark diverse. For them I am grateful.

So whatever your background, wherever you are from, however you celebrate, whatever you bring to the table – let’s make it a big table. In the words of my all-time favorite band, U2, who happen to be Irish, “It’s a beautiful day.” Build bridges not walls. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. From Copenhagen.



Lighten Up Copenhagen with Winter Light Festival

Winter Light Festival Illuminates Copenhagen Harbor

February is GETTING a little brighter

Copenhagen is winning at winter. This year for sure. This is our fourth winter in the Danish capital and speaking from experience, I feel a little like a winner myself whenever I make it past January on the calendar. While all that Danish hygge definitely helps, I was more than happy to hear that the city has added a little illumination to the night, letting Copenhagen lighten up this winter. Enter the Copenhagen Light Festival all over the city celebrating the Danes special connection with design and oh-so-luscious lighting.

Once Copenhagen jumps into the New Year with one of the best celebrations in the world, the lights usually turn off and January can be dark and damp. Life turns indoors and we all cozy up with friends and coffee and Netflix normally. Hygge this. I’m ok with the downturn, but am also grateful when it goes. You can feel the days getting incrementally longer come February. Halleluia. Happy dance. And while the month is still brisk and may bring some snow, it now affords some reasons to get outside after dusk. Bust out your best mittens, scarves, beanies and boots and beeline to the city to see the lights. Lighten up Copenhagen!



Throughout the month, you can get a good overview of the installations along the canals. Take a guided canal boat cruise with Stromma. 45 minutes beginning at 19:00, you can get out on the water in a heated and covered canal boat. A classic start to any sight-seeing tour of the town, it is pretty cool after dark. Bundle up and sit outside if you dare. We loved the dark water lit up with the lights. But hurry and book soon, limited seats are filling up fast.

Tickets: 100 kr
45 minutes
Leaves from Ved Stranden dock near Højbro Plads.


Our first experience with a city-sponsored light festival was in Berlin for Lichterfest back in 2016. In a rainy, cold October break it provided a nice break from the damp autumn weather. Lichterfest had a broader scope than we found here in Copenhagen, but the Danes do it their way. Always. Minimal and well designed, Denmark knows how to make an impact, even if subtly.



The program for Copenhagen Light Festival evolves over the month with new exhibits cropping up and fading out each week. Check the website for the up-to-date schedule of exhibits. Here were our favorites from the opening weekend that you should be able to see throughout the month.


LOCATION: Kalvebod Bølge
ARTIST: Mads Vegas

142 fluorescent lamps align along the harbor bridges in front of Kalvebod Brygge creating a virtual sundown of light. With a near rainbow of blues to sunny reds and oranges and yellows, this installation is sure to bring sunshine to the harbor all month.

Light Installation on the Copenhagen Canal at Kalvebod Bølge | Light art by Mads Vegas for Copenhagen Light Festival 2018 | Oregon Girl Around the WorldKalvebod Bølge Copenhagen waterfront Light Installation by Mads Vegas 2018 | Oregon Girl Around the WorldEternal Sundown by Mads Vegas | Light Installation for Copenhagen Light Festival 2018 at Kalvebod Brygge | Copenhagen Marriott | Oregon Girl Around the World


LOCATION: Ofelia Plads
ARTIST: Vertigo (Formerly Obscura Vertigo)

The Wave is an impressive interactive light and sound display that encourages participants engagement. Walk through. Listen. Absorb. Be mesmerized. It’s amazing. Returning for the second time to Copenhagen, The Wave is part of the Frost Festival 2018 and sits on the harbor in the modern cultural space known as Ofelia Plads. One of my favorite places to soak up summer, Ofelia Plads is the place to be once again this winter.

Interactive Light Installation The Wave at Ofelia Plads Copenhagen | Light Festival 2018 | Oregon Girl Around the WorldTriangles of light from The Wave on Ofelia Plads for Frost Festival 2018 | Copenhagen Light Festival | Oregon Girl Around the World


LOCATION: Louis Poulsen Showroom, Gammel Strand 28
ARTIST: Jakob Kvist

If you haven’t heard of Danish hygge – then seriously where have you been? And whether or not you are fed up with hearing hygge hyped in all parts of the world, it will always be part of the Danish DNA. Part of creating a space for hygge is getting the atmosphere right. Here in Denmark, that means investing in good lighting. If you have the means, a light from Danish light design company Louis Poulsen is the way to go. Many of the Danish design greats have created masterpieces in lamps and overhead lighting for Louis Poulsen. I’m coveting one of the bright Poul Henningsen pendant lamps, still the original design but now in updated delicious colors. One of each please. Can’t afford a designer lamp? You can soak up the light emanating from their showroom this month. I love the rainbow fruit stripe colors of this installation by artist Jakob Kvist.

Louis Poulson Showroom with Jakob Kvist Light Installation for Copenhagen Light Festival 2018 | Gammel Strand København | Oregon Girl Around the World


LOCATION: Nikolaj Plads 10, 1067 København K
ARTIST: Martin Ersted

Nikolaj Kunsthal just off Højbro Plads is lit up with changing lights, but what is truly impressive is the giant green laser beam that points to the tower all the way from Tivoli. With a new winter season open at the amusement park, you can extend your winter wonderland of sparkly lights with activities like ice skating and rides under the lights.

Copenhagen Light Festival 2018 | Louis Poulson showroom with Jakob Kvist display and Tivoli Laser | Oregon Girl Around the World



Many of Copenhagen’s most iconic architecture already utilizes light as part of their design. As you may have already gleaned, the Danes have placed a high value on creating atmosphere with light. Basically since the dawn of electricity in Denmark. From creating those happy hygge filled spaces inside to lessening the dark Danish winters outside. Come to Copenhagen she said. And see these quintessential buildings, many with permanent light displays and some now even more exciting this season.


Three round light sculptures visible through the windows of the Opera House are said to represent the red flag with three white dots of nearby freetown and hippy commune Christiania.

Copenhagen Opera House from Light Festival Stromma boat tour | Oregon Girl Around the World


The Danish playhouse sits right next to Ofelia Plads, so you can check it out when you go see The Wave. Take note of the thin fiber optic thread lights that hang like stars in the foyer. There are thousands of them that glitter through the glass windows over the harbor.

Royal Danish Playhouse | Skuespilhuset Teater lit up on the Copenhagen Harbor | Copenhagen Light Festival 2018 | Oregon Girl Around the World


One of my favorite buildings in Copenhagen, the Børsen was originally home to the Danish Stock Exchange when opened in 1640. Since the mid-1800’s, the building has been used by the Danish Chamber of Commerce and is unfortunately not open to the public. But wander down the canal and enjoy the blue light installation in all the windows, known as The Danish Chamber of Light.

Lights on the Børsen Copenhagen Stock Exchange | Light Festival 2018 | Oregon Girl Around the World

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson who is responsible for the light sculptures at the Opera House has also utilized light on his Circle Bridge. The Cirkelbroen (in Danish) is super cool and interesting day or night. Find it sitting across the main canal from the dramatic Royal Library called the Black Diamond as it stretches over the exit of the Christianshavn Canal.

Light display on the Cirklebroen Circle Bridge by Danish-Icelandic Artist Olafur Eliasson | Copenhagen Denmark | Light Festival February 2018 | Oregon Girl Around the World


Are you a big fan of light festivals? Have you been to others around the world? Check out this amazing list from Tracy’s Travels in Time to illuminate and inspire on where to light up next.

Oregon Girl Around the World


A Sweet Slice of Nostalgia at The American Pie Company in Copenhagen

Authentic Americana and Apple Pie in the heart of Copenhagen

Care to share a sweet slice of authentic Americana right in the middle of Copenhagen? It’s as easy as pie. Except that I had yet to try. Until yesterday, when I finally succumbed to step inside The American Pie Company in the center of the city, which has been charming locals and garnering nominations for the City’s Best (Byens Bedste) Awards since it flung open its button-cute café in 2015. What took me so long you might ask? Wouldn’t a nice piece of pumpkin, pecan or key lime pie be the perfect palliative for any potential bout of pining for home? Yer darn tootin’ it could be. However, I’ve resisted. Until now. Continue reading “A Sweet Slice of Nostalgia at The American Pie Company in Copenhagen”

Copenhagen has the Best New Year's Eve in the World

Copenhagen has the Best New Year’s Eve in the World

Danes Blow the Old Year Away With a Bang


Godt Nytår! That’s Danish for Happy New Year! And dang it, Danes celebrate the turning of the calendar like nowhere I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen New Year’s Eve in a few places around the planet. But here, in Denmark, it’s difficult to describe. It’s different and delightful and downright LOUD. These normally rule-following, structured and peaceful peeps throw a no-holds-barred kind of colorful chaotic cacophony of a welcome to the brand new baby new year. If you’ve been here on December 31st, you know. If you’re Danish, you know. This year we celebrated our fourth New Year’s Eve in Denmark. And by now, I think we know! Any and all future end of year celebrations will pale in comparison to Copenhagen’s. Come see why and how to usher in the new year like a Dane. This is a little louder than your average hygge. But if fireworks are your thing, I reckon you’ll be happy.

Continue reading “Copenhagen has the Best New Year’s Eve in the World”