Saturday, March 31, 2012

I'm enthusiastic, not excellent

Once upon a time*, a mixed group of draftees and enlistees were in boot. They were lined up one at a time, handed something that went bang**, and pointed at the derelict hulk of a tank resting beneath the spreading branches of a tree. The tank had a big bullseye painted on the very dented front. One of the men involved nailed the center of the bullseye on the first try, resulting in a bang and flying debris, and was feeling fairly proud of himself as he stepped aside.

After him came a young man who was hobbling slightly, still getting used to wearing shoes. This young man took the weapon and stared thoughtfully at the tank, dappled with sunlight and shifting shadows in the breeze. Just before the sergeant lost his temper, he finally fired. The round rebounded off a swaying tree limb and dropped into the open hatch on top, followed by a curiously muffled whumph. As smoke gently wisped out the hatch, he turned to the sergeant and said in a painfully thick and slow drawl, "Well, you wanted me t' kill the people in the tank, right, sir?"

"You! Out of here!"

"Don' I get the other tries, sir?"

The first young man would go on to qualify as expert marksman in every firearm the army had in use*** (and bayonet, too.) However, he never forgot the lesson he learned that day in basic: never get cocky, because there's always someone who is so much better that they're not even in the same league.

Fortunately, he passed this lesson on to me, and I have tried to remember and live by it. I have met some pilots who were good sticks, who could do things near-impossible on a regular basis. I have met great shooters. I am neither - I really enjoy flying and shooting, but I am not that great at either. Keep that in mind when I talk about my plane, or guns, or reviews of anything, really.

*Not that long ago. The difference between war stories and fairy tales is that one begins "Once upon a time", and the other begins "No sh*t, there I was" - being as this was the Vietnam war era, and definitely not my story, I gave it a fairy tale opening.

**Question for the audience - I first heard this one when I was not quite as tall as a rifle with a bayonet, possibly the same day I got bored, lost, and was finally found sitting on a table in the armory, enchanted and excited while a very, very nice man with lots of chevrons on his sleeves showed off his many, many toys (so cool!). Anyone have an idea what sort of weapon was involved? I think I remember it being described as a 50mm shell, but that's really fuzzy.

***Which took quite a few years. In fact, as he was closing in on the goal, his daughter was getting to dating age. And the qualification targets, with their little tombstones, started to go up on the wall in the hall leading to his daughter's bedroom...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Lovely Leather Holster Fit For a Lady

Picked up my holster from Dennis of Dragon Leatherworks today! Fortunately, when I start making noises like a pre-pubescent girl at a boy band concert, Calmer Half and Dennis just smile.

Now, I knew that I was being picky and fussy, and asking for a holster that was just like this but not too much that, and straight-drop but high retention, and pretty but functional, and fits a gun that few people have handled (Kel-Tec PMR-30), and lightweight would be good, but stiff and sturdy would be better, and most of all it cannot dig into my ribs, or I will pout and never wear it... The man should have charged me twice what he did, because by the time he managed to give me everything I asked for and things I hadn't even thought about, it became a one-off custom design like nothing I've seen on the gun shop wall, or in any of Calmer Half's three boxes of holsters. Or Oleg's... I don't know how many holsters.

Instead of slots to thread a belt through, it has loops and snaps (heaviest-duty snaps he could get), and the center is a marvel - it's scalloped deeply enough I can get a good grip and easily get the gun out, but the back end keeps the butt of the gun from getting close enough to dig in, while the holster itself does an excellent job of keeping the gun easily accessible, tucked in close to my body and yet far away from my ribs. And even better, the stitching in the center means that the holster curves, just a little, to conform to the very non-linear form of my hip. I can wear this from the front to the side to practically the small of my back, and it conforms to each spot! (I didn't know holsters could do that!)

All you get right now are my cell phone pictures, but I promised Dennis I would be careful and keep it away from coffee, cat hair, sawdust, oil, or grime until Oleg can take Oleg-level awesome pictures of the sheer prettiness. And it is pretty!

As for retention, when I turn it upside down (with no magazine, then an empty magazine) and shook it like a salt cellar that's gotten a little caked by humidity, the gun didn't even budge. Granted, even a fully loaded PMR-30 is lightweight (otherwise I wouldn't love it the way I do), but I could make like it was a maraca and it wouldn't move.

Did I mention the pretty? Squeee! I mean, it's honestly beautiful. Rainbow-dyed python leather, burgundy leather shading to black... this is the kind of holster that demands open-carry just to show itself off, but when hidden beneath a jacket or blouse will still bring a grin to my face, 'cause I know I've got pretty underthings on!

And for those of you looking for a review from somebody who's going to sound all old hat at guns and holsters, go read Calmer Half's notes on his blog. And for those who want to see what it looks like on my belt - yeah, nobody's seeing my rear unless it's from a much more flattering view than the twisted-around fuzzy out-of-focus pictures I managed to get. Wait a while, and I ought to have the range report of learning to draw and shoot with it to go with better pictures!

Edited to add: Oleg has much, much better photos up here:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Not Like Mama Made It

Daddybear was reminiscing on cooking, and on the difference between his wife's cooking and his mother's cooking (and Army chow).

Calmer Half, let me state for the record, is a far wiser man than to ever complain about my food being "not like mum made it." He is also a bit older than your standard fresh-faced newlywed, and has experienced a much wider range of cooking, from African tribal fare which did not involve such petty trifles as cleaning out the pig intestines before throwing them in the soup to "good homemade Indian curry" that could be classified as a chemical weapon in most civilized countries, as well as fine Continental (European) dining well before he was introduced to my cooking, (which draws from just about anywhere the US Armed Forces have ever put a base, or oil has been found.)

I have a lot of respect for his mother. The lady grew up in the depression after The Great War, married a young soldier whom she met during an air raid, and survived in London during the Blitz, from the firebombs to the rationing. When her husband took her to South Africa after the war, she walked into their hotel room to find the standard (for South Africa) welcoming basket of free fruit - and promptly burst into tears. It had been six years since she had last seen an orange, and never you mind at what price it had last been.

No matter the post-war South African dishes she fixed (or other dishes she learned, later on), her comfort food was... a legacy of two generations of rationing and harsh economy, of stretching what little food there wasn't to feed what mouths there were. It did not include a lot of fresh vegetables, spices, thick juicy steaks, or exotic (to England) ingredients.

So it's not fair to say that I cook better or worse than his mother, because our worlds, our styles, and our ingredients are completely different. And in her cooking styles and dishes, she was, by all reports, a damn fine cook. Sadly, she passed before I could meet her, so I'll never know... and the only observer who had directly sampled both our cooking is far too wise to get into such a fix as to find himself using words like "better" or "worse".

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Quote of the day

"One of the ways we complicate things is by telling stories, especially stories about ourselves. This story we tell ourselves is our identity. The essence of every good story is conflict. So our identity, the central character of this story that we tell ourselves, is based largely on how we deal with conflict. If there has been little conflict in the life, the character, our identity, is mostly fictional.

I present this as a warning. You are what you are, not what you think you are. Violence is what it is, not necessarily what you have been told."

from Meditations on Violence, by Sgt. Rory Miller

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Act of Valor

Once upon a time (last year), when I was talking with both my awesome IA and one of my favorite helicopter pilots (now a helicopter CFI! Congrats, Gunny!), they were smiling at me in that way men who have been on the two-way-range get sometimes - it's not a patronizing smile, but rather one that simply sits there and enjoys the delightful ironies of life that were crystal-clear to them, but not the person on whom its dawning.

In this case, one of them finally let fly the remark building behind the poorly-hid smile, after I mentioned that Calmer Half was so.... delightfully steadfast and unruffled at the mundane emergencies of life, including a new bride suffering setbacks four thousand miles away. "We always knew you'd marry a combat vet."

"I didn't! I wanted to grow up to be a civilian!" (I did, too. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I reportedly folded my arms, glared up at the teacher, and spat out 'A civilian!' Yeah, I was that army brat.) "I did become a civilian, for years, before I married a vet! But he's not in the service, so it doesn't count, right? And he's not even one of ours!"

The Gunny, who has tempted me into motorcycle rides, shooting a shotgun, carrying a gun from Alaska to Tennessee, and given hugs and jumped a dead battery after midnight, gave up any pretense at hiding his grin. "You're a military brat. You never were a civilian!" He teased, and for all my attempted defense... he had a point, in a way.

Today, I dragged Calmer Half off to see Act of Valor. Which is awesome, and should be seen on the big screen. Twice. It was a very jarring movie, on several levels, full of cognitive dissonance that made it punch me in the gut even harder. Despite a high body count, it had less gore than one minute of a regular action movie fight. The camera did not linger lovingly on bullet time or blood spraying, and moved quickly, tactfully away from carnage or corpses. (Though that was utterly gut-wrenching in its own way, because those are the most realistic-looking bruises on the badly beaten hostages' face I've ever seen outside of a mirror or a friend's skin. It wasn't movie-real, it was reality-real.) It did things right, down to the little details Hollywood always misses - and the little details were what kept throwing me, because they were wrong for a movie, and right for reality. I kept thinking "That shouldn't look like that/be there, because that's how it really is!"

The men, and their wives and kids, were military and military spouses in their blood and bone, in their responses and their skin - one of the reasons I have a hard time enjoying Serenity sober is that the people are so jarringly teen-model pretty in an environment anything but, and so perfectly quippy: these people were instead breathtakingly, gut-wrenchingly real. And yes, the quiet scenes weren't note-perfect with their emotional cues... but they came across to me as the guys trying to recount for the camera conversations you've already had fifty times, or five years ago, with your buddies. It isn't seemingly spontaneous because you've long since moved to a friendly slap or a nod to say the same thing.

But the most important part of the movie wasn't the movie itself; it was the conversation I had with Calmer Half, afterward. I don't know much about South Africa, much less the country in his youth, the war in Rhodesia, or after he left the service. To the extent records of that culture exist, the realities of life in the last decades of apartheid, in the middle of a civil war no side wanted to acknowledge at the time and certainly want to rewrite to their glorious causes now - what record is there? So I miss things that should be obvious - like the lack of military dependent culture. It's a large country, but not so large or structured such that dependents need move with their soldiers, much less every six months to three years, like in the US. So their military culture did not embrace and define their dependents... and their civilian culture did not embrace and support returning veterans.

This would explain not only his continuing befuddlement at my thorough and unashamed preference with working with USAA (who are awesome) and laughter at "Of course they have a pre-marital fiscal counseling checklist! They're USAA! They have a checklist for everything!" - but it also means that after watching Act of Valor, he felt that enough foundation had been laid to attempt to bridge cultures and explain active service, and how combat changes a soldier (or sailor, or airman). What he found, to his surprise, was that I didn't need that. I already knew. I've been raised culturally to love and support my soldier, in the field and at home, and I don't need to have gone downrange to know that those who've been out where civilization has broken down, protecting us back in the good life, will be forever marked by that experience.

He's not weird, he's not strange, he's not broken or damaged... he's my sailor, my vet, my Calmer Half, and I love him from his goofy love for naughty limericks to the shrapnel still embedded along his spine, from the smile he gets when I come home to the way he manages to steal the comforter but not the sheet. He's the hand I'll squeeze bloodless, the shoulder I'll cry on, the explanation for what gun that was and how it was or wasn't used properly, the reminder that I was making tea ten minutes ago, and did I want this...stewed...cup, or a fresh one?

He's the man who stares into a distance I can't follow, seeing things that my military and police have protected me from having to see at home, and said softly, "That's really what it looks like, after a buddy jumps on a grenade to save your life." And I don't know what he's seeing, but I can see the pain he's feeling, and I can hug him tightly, and hold him, and tell him softly that I love him, and I'm very glad he made it home... because I have seen that pain before, under the wry jokes and the friendly ribbing, and watched my mother and the other wives treasure and support their husbands.

The scene where the wife holds it all together, being strong and calm and loving, in control and everything held together so the last thing her sailor sees when he's headed downrange is a happy, unstressed, loving wife.... and then when the door closes, sliding down it to cry at last? I try to never, ever have an argument with Calmer Half on the phone, and always quickly defuse or shelve it if I can, downplay any injuries or bad things, and present life as smooth as awesome - bone deep reflexes. You wait until your soldier's home before stressing him out with the daily minutiae. And I don't ask questions about what he saw or did out there, because the focus is always on being loving, supportive, and enjoying him in the here and now, making plans for the future. It's a little odd to civilian-raised friends when I literally can't tell you where in the world male members of my family are, because I never asked where they were heading - but if I don't need to know, I don't need to ask. It's only important that they come home safely, and if they're gone long enough, I know where to send care packages.

I knew that we'd have cultural gaps, but I was blindsided by his trepidation that he'd have to try to explain the military and combat to a civilian wife, and tentative hope that the movie would help me to understand. For learning on a gut deep level that his I-wanted-to-be-a-civilian wife already knows and supports him, and has never thought him strangely paranoid for normal combat-learned habit or broken and damaged for military-learned reflexes and reactions (physical and emotional), the movie tickets could have cost a hundred dollars each, and I'd have gladly paid.

As for that "Sh*t civilians say to soldiers" video that's making the rounds? If you ever hear those words coming out of my mouth and not in a sarcastic way, slap me, would you? 'Cause I'll need and deserve it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

More cool holsters, chocolate chip cookies, and range time

With a post header like that, there's no doubt it was a great weekend. With Stormageddon impending after a morning running errands, I did what any sensible person would - let the house be quiet for Calmer Half to take a nap by meeting Miss M. at a bachelor friend's house to bake chocolate chip cookies.

Of course, when said friend is Oleg Volk, I never know what or who I'll find at his house in the course of cookie making. This time his models were two great gentlemen. One of whom completely boggled my mind by showing a holster he makes out of transparent kydex! The very concept made me squeal a little in glee, and wish that I was fifteen pounds lighter and in shape to dance all night, because it looked like the most awesome accessory for clubbing clothes. That clearly wasn't what Chris had in mind when he designed and produced the holster, but he was a good sport about us girls gleeing over his holster and sadly noting that it was high-ride enough to thoroughly bruise our ribs. (If it had fit both me and any of my favorite handguns, I would have been offering cash and cookies for him to leave without it. Because it's just so cool!)

Oleg doesn't have a picture of the transparent holster up, but he does show the tiny small-of-back holster Chris makes here:

Few things are funnier than the look of shock, horror, and utter disgust on Gremlin's face when he's been lamenting at the screen door that we need to let him aaaoouuuwt for half an hour - only to have Mother Nature spray him with hard rain rebounding off the deck. He couldn't believe that outside would fire a spray bottle back inside at him, and try to peg him with hail!

Today, Calmer Half, Miss M, and I got a late start to the range due to detours like Calmer Half's awesome omelettes, and the neighbor's big puppy (a Saint Bernard / English mastiff mix who is just beautiful, awesome, playful, sheddy, and drooly.) There wasn't much actual shooting time for all the time devoted to instruction on fit, stance, and recoil management - as both ladies present are part of the Concealed Crippling Injuries party.

Once again, I proved that .38 special in a Model 65 is right at the very limit of what I can tolerate - and that I'm a fair bit grouchy when the pain radiates from my shoulder down to my fingertips and my lower back, and up to my right temple. I know that slow is smooth and smooth is fast, but I only have a short span of time holding the gun at shoulder height in the weaver stance before the trembling muscles put a lie to smooth. It's either shoot fast and without careful aim or shoot slowly and start to shake by the time I've lined up on target.

I shot the Walther P22 left-handed after the right side started locking up, and it worked much better than expected. I was pointlessly grumpy at my own inaccuracy. Shooting off-handed is like learning to write with the wrong hand; expecting the same accuracy without years of training and muscle memory only leads to frustration with what's actually good progress.

Calmer Half also introduced a new concept - using the square end of the back of the slide to cover the target, and shooting that way, instead of trying to line up on the target with the sights. As he said, it's far less accurate at long range, but far faster at close range - no consistent bullseyes there, but a lot of lead got downrange much faster, in roughly the targets area. It doesn't provide the fine control I like by any means, but I really see the value if somebody was coming at me in a dark parking lot.

As for Matthew's rimfire-dud tracking project, today wasn't good for statistics, as I could only swear to one dud out of sixty shots - the rest of the failure to fires were either the round, a problematic extractor, or me not managing to be steady enough for the gun to use recoil to load the next round. I hate tap-rack drills; they wear me out. And the more worn out I get, the worse I get, until every single shot was followed with a failure to feed, even after switching from Federal bulk-pack to CCI Minimag.

Unsurprisingly, I came home and promptly faceplanted in bed for several hours. Think I'll get some ibuprofin and go back there now. Great weekend!