The Pleasanton Highland Games

I am posting this Tuesday night, September 4th, via the mobile hotspot on John’s phone again as we finish up our leg to Albuquerque.  We had really poor “highspeed” internet last night at the hotel in the Grand Canyon, and almost no cell data transfer available all day, so I couldn’t post yesterday.  Our trip odometer rolled over 6000 miles today just after leaving the Grand Canyon and we still have a ways to go!  As I type, we are passing over the Continental Divide.  A big day for the Armstrong family – the Grand Canyon, 6000 miles, and the great divide.  Awesome.  Oh, and our first stop at a Cracker Barrel!  Those are all for another post, though.  Another pivotal day for our trip occurred on Saturday, September 1.  We had only three dates fencing in our plans for this whole crazy cross/zig-zag-country trip that has us traversing probably 8000 miles in a month.  The first was the wedding on August 25 in Santa Cruz, the last is our reporting to Charleston, South Carolina, by September 17, and in the middle were the Pleasanton Highland Games in the Bay Area September 1st and 2nd.  The Games weren’t on our initial “must do” list, but had we remembered they were taking place, of course they would have been a high priority 🙂  It wasn’t until I was talking with my sister-in-law about our visit to Redding and she mentioned that they might not be around on the dates we planned to visit them — because they’d probably be at the Highland Games that weekend — that we added this event to the “cannot be missed” category.  Suddenly, being in the Bay Area for the Games started to help reshape the plans, and I was excited to be heading to hear bagpipes in the near future.  We left John’s sister’s house for Pleasanton around 11:45am, but it was close to 1pm before we made it in the gate of the Games (Even though it was only a 30 minute drive) because finding parking there is really tough.  The whole family was outfitted for the day in kilts and American Flag t-shirts from Old Navy, thanks to the recent trip to Edinburgh and my friend Katie Shanahan who brought us the shirts from America when she visited the UK a few months back.

Esther’s husband Rolf told John that stripes and plaid don’t play well together — here with Greer on his shoulders we have plaid, stripes, plaid. Bingo.

John’s sister Esther and her family were at the games, too, as well as his mom and dad who had driven down from Redding.  Here are a few pictures to show foreigners – and any Americans who haven’t been to a Highland Games before — what our Scottish Games are like in the US.  They’re an excuse for people with any kind of period-costume to don their corsets, doublets, and boots, and to spend the day listening to fine music, eating the American version of British and Scottish foods (as well as regular American carnival food), and buying all things Celtic and/or related to piping, dancing, and other Celtic musical instruments.  We even saw a guy wearing what looked to be an outfit from the movie “The Three Musketeers,” complete with the tunic, tights, and feathered hat – not sure what that was all about.

Random strangers I stopped to compliment on their outfits.

Apparently it was cold enough there to warrant a full length fur. Not really.

I like the anachronistic look of this one – renaissance dress with a plastic baby stroller.

Procession of the Queen of Scotland

I was happy to find some Jack Lee chanter reeds for my bagpipes – which normally I can only buy online – because I was able to try them out to see which reeds were perfect for my piping.  Some people are at the Games specifically to compete – and others to watch the competitions – in the Scottish heavy events (Caber toss, hammer throw, etc), Highland Dance, and Piping events for bands and individuals.

I watched a few bands compete just before leaving.

We gathered with our group and descended on one of the concert stages to await the 1pm performance by Albannach, armed with our assorted eats.  John’s parents had opted for meat pies and strawberry shortcake, we chose corndogs, and Esther’s family had a mix of the two.  The “band” was comprised of only one piper and a bunch of drummers, one of whom occasionally added female vocals to the mix.  It was well done, though, with the drummers providing not only the beat, but something for the eye, while the lone piper played tunes that showed him to be both musically creative and technically competent – meaning it was catchy enough to entertain the crowd and musically interesting enough not to sound insipid to a knowledgable musician.  They made you want to get up and dance, as evidenced by this random girl who was doing just that.

Greer, thinking about dancing

After about half an hour, it was time for us to say a tearful goodbye to John’s parents and sister, et al.  We won’t be seeing them for some time and had very nice visits with them all.  We’re so used to being far away from family after so many years in the military, but saying goodbye to them never gets any easier.

Passed by this on our way out of the Games

A coyote face skin that we wasted $5 on, modeled by Patience

We left Pleasanton for – get this – Hollister!  I didn’t realize the other day when I was writing my diatribe of disapproval about the store called “Hollister” and all its clothing so inappropriately labeled “Hollister Surf Co.” (see the post called Artichoke Capital of the World) that we would soon be making a visit to the nondescript town ourselves.  It turns out that our friends from our Castroville church whom we had been planning to visit Saturday afternoon actually live in Hollister, much to my chagrin 🙂  We had a lovely visit with the Drew family – dare I say, the one good thing about Hollister (there I go again, insulting their town….)  No really, though, it’s not that bad, as you can see from these pictures:

A nice cow watering tank

Perhaps the former location of “Hollister Surf Company”?

The current Hollister Surf Company Headquarters (just kidding)

Haha – guess those photos don’t really do much towards refuting my claims about Hollister.  These should do the trick, though – the fun family who fixed us a delicious dinner of steak, corn on the cob (how does everyone know I love that stuff!?!) , baked potatoes, phenomenal garlic bread, and homemade sweet and spicy baked beans.  They started off the visit on the right foot by handing us pina coladas, rimmed with toasted coconut, as we walked in the door 🙂  It was wonderful to reconnect with them after being away from Monterey since December 2007, and, as usual, they made us laugh so that we were sorry to have to leave in the evening.

The Drew kids with ours

Liesl and me, with Michelle Drew

Michelle with her girls (nice Hollister sweatshirt!!)

Our final stop of the day was the home of Joel and Rachel Robbins in Castroville.  Joel is the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Castroville, the one we attended during our three years in Monterey at the Naval Postgraduate School.  The children played together for a while with the five Robbins children while we chatted (oh, and we had delicious homemade ice cream – a dish of lemon and one of salted caramel), and then it was time for bed.  I will leave you with their cute little house — to me it is the quintessential California ranch house, from which the term “ranch house” originated.

Their back patio which they built and landscaped



3 thoughts on “The Pleasanton Highland Games

  1. Oh those pictures are adorable! I love the kilts! And man, those pics make me miss California all the more! The weather looks AWESOME, as usual.

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