Saturday, April 10, 2021

Friday, a Cocktail and a Fratello

By lunch on Friday afternoon, I had in my head already my desire for the evening wind down. I often look forward a cigar and drink to kick off the weekend, but for some reason on this day, I was hankering for something specific. After dinner, it came to be. 

There it is. One of my few remaining "vintage" Fratello DMV Virginia cigars from the 2018 debut and a classic Old Fashioned.

This evening's Old Fashioned was prepared with Maker's Mark Cask Strength Bourbon. I treated myself to two Luxardo cherries to go along with the slightly heavy-handed whiskey pour. Fortunately I remembered to make some "rocks" of ice during the week. 

The original Fratello DMV Virginia is one of my favorites. It has an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, an Ecuadorian binder and a blend of filler tobaccos from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and the USA. The 5 ½ x 52 stick is medium to full bodied with notes of roasted coffee, earth and some spice. After nearly 2 ½ years in the humidor, the wrapper still has a beautiful chocolate brown sheen. The flavors remain bold and stood up quite well to the strongly-flavored cocktail.

It's a little bitter sweet as a I watch my stock of the DMV Virginia dwindle. But, it sure is more enjoyable than just staring at them in the humidor.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

He is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Happy Easter!
On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.
-- John 20:1-9

It's Easter, the fulfillment of Our Lord's promise of eternal life. Today marks the ultimate triumph of good over evil. The Resurrection confirms that our daily struggles are not for nought, that our final reward is eternal. Easter is our reminder to be hopeful, and vigilant, never surrendering to evil.

The Prince of Darkness is hard at work in this world. His minions do his bidding willingly, if naively, deceiving with false promises, and twisting the truth until evil is mistaken for good. The newly "woke" invoke his aid to create false guilt. Acquiescence to immorality is falsely promoted as "love and acceptance." All the while, morality and true love are deemed "hateful." Indeed, Satan's greatest trick is convincing the world that he doesn't exist. Through never ceasing attacks on our faith, attacks on our freedoms, attacks on the sanctity of life, we witness the battle against evil that continues still. 

Yet today, the empty tomb reminds us that there is hope. The promise of Easter gives us the strength to persevere. On this most glorious of days, we are reminded that we must continue to face oppression and persecution head on. We must not acquiesce or even compromise. Diluted or relabeled, evil is still evil.

Here's wishing you a blessed and joy-filled Easter. May the joy of the Resurrection remain in your life all year long.

Mass at the tomb of Jesus
The Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
Photo by Colleen, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2021


A 3:00 thought for Good Friday.
The ancient greyness shifted suddenly and thinned like mist upon the moors before a wind.

An old, old prophet lifted a shining face and said:

“He will be coming soon. The Son of God is dead; He died this afternoon.”

A murmurous excitement stirred all souls. They wondered if they dreamed

save one old man who seemed not even to have heard.

And Moses, standing, hushed them all to ask if any had a welcome song prepared.

If not, would David take the task?

And if they cared could not the three young children sing the Benedicite,

the canticle of praise they made when God kept them from perishing in the fiery blaze?

A breath of spring surprised them, stilling Moses’ words.

No one could speak, remembering the first fresh flowers, the little singing birds.

Still others thought of fields new ploughed or apple trees all blossom-boughed.

Or some, the way a dried bed fills with water laughing down green hills.

The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam on bright blue seas.

The one old man who had not stirred remembered home.

And there He was, splendid as the morning sun and fair as only God is fair.

And they, confused with joy, knelt to adore

Seeing that He wore five crimson stars He never had before.

No canticle at all was sung. None toned a psalm, or raised a greeting song,

A silent man alone of all that throng found tongue — not any other.

Close to His heart when the embrace was done, old Joseph said,

“How is Your Mother, How is Your Mother, Son?”
-- Sister Mary Ada

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Spring Weather and an IDPA Match

Last weekend we enjoyed what is often referred to as "false spring" in Virginia. The weather was warm, the humidity low, and the pollen count high. It provided near perfect conditions for shooting. (This week we are back to cold, windy and wet, and with pollen.) A smaller contingent than usual gathered for the monthly IDPA match at Cavalier Rifle and Pistol Club. As usual, five interesting and fun stages awaited us. 

As I plan to do for all of 2021, I was shooting the Compact SIG P320. I'm getting used to the 8 round count in the magazines when planning my stage runs, and psychologically, the lower round count forces me to stop including possible makeup shots in my plan.

The first stage we shot was a quick stage with three paper and one steel target. We began with the gun loaded with just three rounds. The first target required two hits to the body and one to the head. After reloading we moved to engage the remaining targets from cover. I shot the stage clean with a -0 run.

Another out of the ordinary start position was used on the next stage. We began facing up range with our elbows on a table, the unloaded gun was placed on a barrel behind us, and all magazines were placed on another barrel further down range. Seven paper targets were engaged from four points of cover among the walls. My "no makeups" stage plan bit me a bit here as I had a -3 hit one target that I did not make up, and finished -4 on the run.

Again, our next stage again offered more variation from normal. We saw a field of eight targets arranged across the bay, some hidden by barrels, high and low, with half being head only targets. The stage was shot in two strings. The first string mandated a single shot on each target, while the second string was shot support hand only, with shots to the four full targets. The starting position was the loaded gun in hand, with the barrel tip resting on the top of a cone placed mid-stage. 

The target placement was such that some movement was required to see all targets. Since the start was in the center we had to traverse most of the shooting area. On the first string, stepping to the left allowed one to see six targets, before moving to the right for the last two. Given the close proximity of the targets, most of the shooting could be done on the move. For the second, WHO string, I moved left to get the far left target behind the barrel, before moving across the stage and engaging the required targets. I was -1 on the stage, for a head shot just outside the center circle.

Our next stage again required the gun to be downloaded to six rounds, and placed on a table with the rest of our magazines. We started facing the right berm, a few steps from the table. After retrieving the gun, three targets were engaged. Grabbing a magazine from the table, we needed to reload while at the same time retreating up range. At the final point of cover, there were two more targets to be engaged. I shot this one -2.

The last stage was the only one with a full gun "normal" start, but it still added a unique twist. Four of the targets in the course were partially blocked by non-threats. On those targets, the head area of the threat targets were painted as hard cover. Even though head shots would typically be the safest as they were furthest from the penalty targets, they were unavailable for scoring.

Despite that extra challenge, I shot the stage -0, and it was actually my best overall finish of the morning. It was a fun stage, with lots of movement. I was relieved to finish the day on a high note.

It was a beautiful morning for shooting. Despite a cool start to the day, it warmed up quickly. I was a little overdressed but still comfortable. I even managed to acquire my first sunburn, though mild, of the year. I was generally pleased with my shooting. Even with the -3 hit, I was -7 total for the match. Despite that, I finished mid-pack, 17th of 31 Overall. I think I still move fairly efficiently, but have slowed over the years in finding the sights and getting the shots off. Perhaps a little more dry fire, or actual practice might help in that area. 

After a pleasant drive on country roads home, there was plenty of time to enjoy the mild weather with a cocktail and cigar on the screen porch. Couldn't ask for much more on that almost-spring Saturday.

For those curious, that's an Old Fashioned made with Maker's Mark Cask Strength paired with a Rocky Patel LB1 in toro.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Friday, March 26, 2021

Range Time

One of the non-medical casualties of the Chinese Virus in 2020 was the number of times I was able to hit the range, outside of an IDPA match. I dropped my indoor range membership due to their feel-good-only "health" restrictions. That significantly cut my shooting opportunities. This year I am going to make an effort to shoot at the local "conservation organization" range more often, despite the erratic, ever-changing, and often secret rules imposed by the range director.

Now that we are in Daylight Saving Time, the range is open past 4:00 so it's easier to find time to shoot. Given the price of ammo, it's likely fewer folks are using the range. Hopefully, this will lead to more rounds downrange in 2021.

On a recent afternoon, I blocked off my calendar so I could spend a little time refreshing my shooting skills. Putting up a cardboard IDPA target, I spent most of the time shooting from the 10 yard line. A lot of my rounds were fired aiming for the head of the target, or doing body to head transitions. That's a frequent pattern in IDPA matches. Sadly, we not allowed to fire more than two rounds in a string, before pausing for an as-yet defined period. No movement is allowed either, so it's really just trigger pull practice.

I did force myself to spend some time on SHO and WHO shooting. So it really was practice, not just fun. I was shooting the Compact SIG P320 that I plan to stick with for the matches this year. I feel I actually shoot it better than the Full Size version. This was especially apparent when doing the single hand shooting. 

I also expended some valuable rounds shooting from 15 and 25 yards. I was surprisingly pleased with the results there. I did stare at the 50 yard berm, remembering some successful longer range pistol shooting from a few years back. Maybe I'll try my luck there on a future visit.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Long Weekend Getaway

We recently escaped the daily routine around the house for an extended weekend in the southern reaches of Virginia. We found a small cabin rental near Galax, Virginia, located next to a charming stream. The cabin sat at the end of a long, gravel single lane road. Peaceful seclusion at its finest.

One of the first things we noticed upon arrival was that the fire pit by the stream was already stacked with kindling with a pile of firewood left nearby. It was the perfect place to relax after a long day of driving. The Crowned Heads La Coalición provided the perfect accompaniment to a cool glass of Legend Brown Ale

On the second afternoon of the trip we made an extended visit to a local craft brewery, Creek Bottom Brewing Company. We had a great time enjoying great food and beer, so expect a review of this brewery in a future post. Returning to the cabin, we once again retreated to the stream side fire pit. This time I lit a cigar I have been looking forward to with much excitement.

Crowned Heads Le Careme Belicosos Finos LE 2021 is a limited edition of the wonderful La Careme. La Careme is one of my "keep on hand" stick, if possible. I say "if possible" because the cigar has been unavailable for a while, in any vitola. The Belicosos Finos Limited Edition was last released in 2019. After seeing an availability announcement, I was fortunate enough to get in a pre-order for a box of the 2021 release. The cigars arrived a few weeks ago and I brought one along to enjoy on the trip. It's a great stick and I look forward to enjoying the rest of the box, over time.

We did a little sightseeing during the trip but spent most of our days hanging out at the cabin. The view and the sounds of the water, and the many birds flitting about were quite enjoyable. We even spied a mature bald eagle sitting over the stream. The early morning dew added to the mystique and beauty. 

It wasn't all time by the fire. The deck on the house offered a nice view, which at one point included a point of Guinness Stout and an Oliva NUb Maduro on a sunny afternoon. 

The Shot Tower State Park provided a brief respite from the drive on the trip home. The 75 foot tower was visible from the highway and we saw it on the drive down, so vowed to check it out. There appeared to be a nice walk along the New River adjacent to the park, which was noted for further exploration on a future visit.

The five day getaway was a most welcome break. While much of the time was spent reading or just sitting around, it was devoid of chores, and despite reasonable internet connectivity, no work-related interruptions. It wasn't until we started planning possible excursions for 2021 that I realized how little time off I'd taken in 2020. Hopefully, we'll make up for that in the coming year.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Another Trip Around the Sun

A year ago I celebrated my first "Chinese Virus" birthday. In what would quickly evolve into a political agenda, we were just beginning the "two weeks to flatten the curve." This past weekend, a full year later, another birthday has come and gone, with little change in how we marked the occasion.

The day started with Holy Mass, after which Colleen prepared our usual Sunday bacon and eggs breakfast. Our dinner plans were for an assortment of smoked meats from a local BBQ place. Picking up our to-go order mid-afternoon, we stopped by the Starbucks to claim my free birthday froufrou coffee. Those errands complete, as we did last year, we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the fire pit.

I had loaded up fire pit earlier in the day, so it was a simple matter of lighting the kindling. We enjoyed the coffee while the fire progressed. About the time the coffee was consumed, the fire was going strong and I broke out the beer and a cigar.

I selected a Padrón Black No. 200 Natural to enjoy for this afternoon celebration. This particular stick was a limited release included in the 2020 Cigar Rights of America variety pack. The tobaccos used in the 5½ x 56 Robusto Gordo are undisclosed. The wrapper is dull brown and on the dry side. The draw was extremely loose, with copious smoke production. The predominant flavors are dark chocolate, espresso, and a robust level of spice and black pepper. When I made the comment that I wasn't expecting the level of pepper, Colleen remarked that she could smell it in the smoke. The cigar burned well, even when I left it to run inside the house. The wrapper began blowing up heading into the last third, though I suspect that may have been caused by setting the cigar down several times on the edge of the fire pit while tending to the fire. It continued to smoke well until the final splitting near the end at the under two inch point.

Our beer selection for the day was Legend Brown Ale. This English Brown Ale is, in my opinion, an easily overlooked ale. It's the Legend Brewing beer most often seen on draft around here, but I pass it by due to its ubiquitous nature. However, I recently picked up a six-pack and, again, questioned why I don't enjoy it more often. The brown ale features a malt and nut aroma. Mildly sweet caramel, molasses, nuts and some roasted malt come out in the sipping. The finish is short and clean. It's an easy sipper and at a moderate 6% ABV, just right for an afternoon of relaxation. The slight sweetness of the beer offset the robust spiciness in the cigar.

The cigar finished, we headed inside for an early dinner. The smoked pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and chicken, along with sides of green beans, coleslaw, and potato salad made for a fitting feast. And we still have leftovers for a meal later in the week!

My was hunger satiated, but I was still in the mood for more relaxation by the fire. The sun would be up for a couple more hours, though by this time I did need a jacket. I returned outside, stirred the coals and added more wood. Soon I had a suitable fire going again and lit another cigar.

The second smoke was the Black Label Trading Company Bishops Blend. This 2020 limited release was one of my favorites from 2020. As noted in previous posts, this cigar is features an Ecuador Maduro wrapper, an Ecuador Habano binder, and a mix of Nicaraguan, Connecticut broadleaf, and Pennsylvania broadleaf filler tobaccos. The smoke is full bodied with flavors of coffee, cocoa, and some interesting dark fruit notes. Sadly, I have but a single stick left. I typically don't hoard cigars, even limited releases, but I may hold the last one for another special occasion.

We're low key people, so the low key celebration was most pleasant. I do look forward to the day when our personal freedoms are not arbitrarily limited by politicians seeking to exert control and push a political agenda under the guise of "health and safety."