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 Carême 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."

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

It's the Feast of St. Patrick


It's that time of the year when a Saint revered by many, especially in the Irish-Catholic community, is adopted by people of all descent. As a Catholic of Irish decent, I can find little fault with people bettering themselves. :-)

I don't drink green beer, and am very confident that neither did St. Patrick. But do as you wish. For my celebration I will stick with a dark Stout or a good Irish Red Ale. And surely a wee pour or two of Irish Whiskey will be enjoyed.

However, in the midst of your celebrations, try to give thought to the man behind the Feast Day. Whether you accept the traditions associated with St. Patrick's life or not, there can be no denying the good he did. (As much as some of these stories cannot be proven, they cannot be disproven either.) Kidnapped as a young boy and sold into slavery in Ireland, he grew to love the Irish people. Late in his life, he was around 60 at the time, Saint Patrick returned to the Emerald Isle to teach and convert the people he had grown to love so much. Certainly that is worthy of our respect.

Our family has long had a devotion to St. Patrick. Our admiration was made all the more tangible when we were blessed to make two pilgrimages to the Emerald Isle, in 2012 and again in 2019. During those visits I was reminded just how much the Irish love Patrick. He's more than just a marketing ploy there.

Odd is it may seem, we actually have to remind people, and pubs, that St. Patrick was a man, not a woman. His name is Patrick, which comes from the Irish, Pádraig. Shorten his name to Paddy if you must. However, we do not celebrate "St. Patty's Day." Patty is a shortened version of Patricia, a girl's name. Feast-related debauchery is one thing, but transgendering our Saint is unacceptable. As much as it pained me, I refused this year to take advantage of more than one "holiday discount" from businesses who tried to lure me with discount codes of "STPATTY" and the like. 

So, celebrate the memory of St. Patrick. Enjoy a drink or two and some good food, hopefully with friends. There's nothing wrong with bringing a little revelry into the world, we certainly need it. I like a good party as much as the next guy. And I certainly appreciate a good Irish drinking joke. Drink your green beer if you must. Dress up in silly clothes. (But, remember St. Patrick was a man, not a leprechaun.) Then remember the reason for this feast. Take a moment to honor the man and all the good he did. In our house we'll raise a drink of uisce beatha, "the water of life," and a prayer, to St. Patrick in honor of his deeds and his country.

All the children of Ireland cry out to thee:
Come, O Holy Patrick, and save us!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Old Beer, Cigars, and the Fire Pit

Sunday afternoon was sunny and the spring allergies were tingling, but the temperature still needed "tweaking" to enjoy the outdoors. We decided to "de-winterize" the fire pit with the first fire of 2021. After clearing out some leaves, I got a fire going and settled in to enjoy a drink and a cigar. 

I dug out a couple of bottles of aged Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout for Colleen and I. These were bottles stored from 2008. We were putting away a lot of high ABV beers in those days for aging and they are most delightful now. I really should get back into that habit. The aroma coming off the glass was rich chocolate and coffee. I could detect it coming up from the glass on the table next to me, despite the smoke from the fire. The flavor was simply delicious. Creamy, dark chocolate, a touch of bitterness, with no alcohol detectable on the palate. I am going to miss these old bottles when they are gone.

The cigar selected was the Tatuaje Great Pumpkin. This stick was part of the 2020 Cigar Rights of America sampler I picked up over the winter. It is an attractive 6 x 52 Belicoso version of a cigar that Tatujae typically produces for events only, and consists of a Mexican San Andrés wrapper with Nicaraguan binders and fillers. 

I was looking forward to smoking this cigar and had been awaiting warmer weather, and the time to enjoy what would likely be a two hour plus smoke. Initially, I got some nice but mild milk chocolate notes, with just a touch of pepper. I struggled to get a lot of smoke through the cigar, so the flavors were muted. I tried relighting its few times, but the tobacco never really got going. Sadly, after about 20 minutes I tossed the cigar into the fire. I've smoked plenty of Tatuaje cigars, and have always enjoyed them. One bad stick is certainly not a condemnation of a brand or line. These are hand crafted items, made from leaves, and every now and then one will be not be right. It's a disappointment, not a condemnation. Life's too short to fret or struggle over one cigar, so I simply moved on to another selection.

Still having plenty of afternoon left, I grabbed an Oliva Serie V Maduro Especial from the humidor. This blend is one of my (many) favorites, especially in the Torpedo vitola.

Like the Tatuaje, this full-bodied cigar has a Mexican San Andrés wrapper with a Nicaraguan binder and fillers, and is spiked with Nicaraguan Jalapa Valley ligero leaves in the filler. It produces notes of rich, creamy chocolate, with a touch of spiciness. Cedar and nutty undertones add to the flavors enjoyed. The ligero leaf serves to contribute a bit of strength. The aged beer and rich cigar made for a very flavorful and enjoyable pairing.

We enjoyed the fire for several hours. A lot of that time was spend watching the numerous birds flitting around in the woods. There were quite a number of bluebirds catching insects in the leaves, and a pair of red tail hawks possibly nesting nearby. Ah, the signs of spring…

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Even More Repetition - ThisTime It's Okay

As we begin the second year of "two weeks to flatten the curve," life can seem a bit repetitive. How many times have you thought, "What day is it?" But sometimes more of the same, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

After doing a bit (a very small bit) of pre-spring yard work this weekend, I enjoyed a relaxing cigar on the deck. After opening each drawer in the humidor several times, I finally selected a Foundation Tabernacle to smoke. More indecisive searching followed in the beer fridge, before I grabbed a Lost Colony Hatteras Red Ale. The Red Ale was a leftover from our fall trip to the Outer Banks. 

Both the beer and the cigar have been mentioned in these Musings previously. The Tabernacle is especially persistent in its appearances. Knowing I've mentioned these things previously, I looked through previous postings and came across this post from December. That's when the déjà vu hit me and I did a double take. That picture…

As I've lamented often of late, "I really need to get out more." One other interesting note, the temperature during that December outing was actually warmer than it was for the March setting.

Monday, March 1, 2021

A Damp and Cool IDPA Match

For just the second time this year, I was able to hit the range and enjoy a fun IDPA match. I opted to shoot the Compact SIG P320 in the Compact Carry Pistol (CCP) division at the monthly match held at the Cavalier Rifle and Pistol Club. I've only shot this gun a few times in the last two years, so it would be interesting to compete with so little practice. The day of the match was prognosticated to be wet and cool, and indeed it was. Sadly, though I'd spent the last week watching the rain percentage column of the weather app, I'd paid little attention to the temperature prediction. After a couple warm days, I was slightly underdressed for the weather, but persevered. 

Our squad's first stage had us standing in a "cage" of sorts, with a low horizontal port to the front, and a vertical port on the two sides. There were two small steel poppers in the front, and two paper targets to each side. The course of fire consisted of two strings. Each string requiring us to engage one popper and one paper target on each side. The preferred method of engagement for most shooters was to step back and to one side where we could shot a close target to one side, and further one on the other, then drop down to engage a popper. I shot this stage -2. 

Next up, more steel. I suppose steel is a good choice for a rainy day. Our second stage had three poppers shot in the open followed by three paper targets from behind cover on either side of the stage. I was -1 on this quick stage.

When I first walked into the next bay, I saw barrels. Just barrels. But approaching the stage, it was apparent that there were five paper targets well hidden from view behind the barrels. As one walked across the front fault line left to right, the targets came into view, but just barely. Adding to one's chances of hitting a barrel, each target required three hits each. It was a fun stage, and I must have found my rhythm at that point, and even warmed up a bit. I was -0, and even placed third overall on the stage.

Next we shot a dreaded, to me, speed stage. I think I've had more misses on up close targets than distant targets over the years. We started with a close target requiring two body shots and one head shot, then engaged three more head-only targets with one shot each. On the first head-only target on the left, I either shot too soon, or moved away too fast and fired a miss. I even went back to look at the target at the end, and studied the target for a moment trying to see the hit, then decided there was an edge hit and called it good. In retrospect, I should have gone ahead and took a makeup shot. Instead I ended up -6 for the stage.

The final stage we shot started with our unloaded gun and all magazines placed on a table. There were three open targets in front of us, and four more to be engaged from two points of cover. Shooters had to decide how and when to reload or stow magazines. Shooters in most divisions chose to do a tactical reload at the table after shooting the first three targets. Since I was shooting in CCP, I had only 8 rounds in each magazine instead of the ten I was used to from shooting in SSP. Once I thought it through, I think he lower capacity was a benefit on this stage.

At the starting beep, I stowed one magazine, then loaded and engaged the first three targets. Shooting the lone target at the first point of cover used up the eight rounds, and I could reload on the move to the next cover position. There I shot the last three targets. This was another -0 stage, and my second best finish overall.

Despite the dreary weather, and my admitted reticence to leave the house in the morning, it turned into a very fun morning with friends. The club was using rain shields on the targets which avoided the aggregation of shooting through and pasting under plastic bags. And as a bonus, I felt generally good about my shooting. I placed 10th of 28 overall. I was the only CCP shooter among the small group of shooters who braved the weather. The round count was low, but the stages were interesting, and fun. Between the lower round count and quick stages, we were done shooting in about 2½ hours. It was a most pleasant way to spend a rainy morning.