Friday, August 18, 2017

Celebrate the small things: the air rushing out

This time last week I had just farewelled mum at the airport after her week visiting us here in Darwin. I know she had a great time, and I certainly loved having her here, especially as her visit coincided with my birthday. Mum was typically meticulous in her planning (despite her son's deficiencies in this area), and exuberant in pursuit of new experiences and knowledge. This is one of the many reasons I love her: she remains active in life, and sharp and inquisitive in the mind. Mum is not one to stagnate, nor will she let life pass her by. In this way, I am very much my mother's son.

When mum left, life resumed its usual cadence, although this past week has been an interesting one, particularly at work. A former employee, more than merely disgruntled as it turns out, lodged a formal complaint against us to the regulatory body which oversees Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) in Australia. His allegations are all either false, or at best exaggerated. We have had to assemble evidence to respond to these allegations. In spite of the inconvenience and the disappointment, we feel this investigation against us will turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

I finished work early yesterday so Jessie and I went to Berry Springs for a swim. It was a perfectly excellent and super relaxing way to finish off a challenging week. This morning I went to a men's breakfast at church which was great. Not so great was getting a punctured tyre on the drive home. I got a little dirty and pretty sweaty changing the tyre, but at least I had a good spare in the boot.

For mum, and her visit, for my workmates and the way we stick together and help one another, for the beautiful and peaceful Berry Springs, for the men's ministry at church and for my trusty Ford Falcon XR6...I am truly grateful.

What challenges did life throw at you this week? How did they inspire gratitude?

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Race for the Spoon

Fortunately I missed the Bulldogs last game. It was another Thursday night game, but I was enjoying dinner with my mum and fiance while my team was once more demonstrating how they have 'packed it in' for NRL season 2017.

This week, against fellow also-rans, the Rabbitohs we managed a goal to end the abysmal  6 week sequence of scoreless first halves. Incidentally, just three years ago the Bulldogs and the Rabbitohs contested the Grand Final. As I said, the mighty have fallen.

Bulldogs coach, Des Hasler, who must shoulder much of the blame for this forgettable season, described the team's performance against the Rabbitohs as 'flat'. 'Flat' seems a woefully inadequate word. We can't score points or stop points- in fact we can't even hold on to the ball, and we haven't won a game since we just beat the last placed Knights by 2 points in round 18, 6 weeks ago. Pathetic seems like a more accurate descriptor.

With three rounds to go until the play-offs, and the teams below us on the table, playing well and actually winning some games, the once-were-mighty Bulldogs could be headed for the ignominy of the Wooden Spoon. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Sad Bulldog

My team, my beloved Bulldogs have been in the feature Thursday night football game for two consecutive weeks. This inevitably leads disgruntled and disappointed fans like myself, to donning our jerseys and settling down to cheer for our team, knowing that we will, in all likelihood, lose the match despite our most insane hopes. Everyone else watching knows it too. 

It also means suffering through the pre-amble, the pre-match panel discussion which these days is just a tragic reminder of our inadequacies as a rugby league team. Even the commentators know we will lose, and don't pretend to 'talk up' their chances.

Among the usual things said about how we are limited in attack ( a kind way of saying that we suck) and therefore would probably lose, this alarming statistic was shared with viewers around the country: The 2017 Bulldogs have the worst attacking record of any Bulldogs team since 1968. That's 49 years. The same number of years I have been visiting this planet. Back then we weren't even called the Bulldogs. We were known as the Canterbury-Bankstown Berries and with a sissy name like 'Berries', it's a wonder we won any games at all.

We played the Panthers last Thursday night and competed well in the first half. In the second, it was anybody's game, but winning would require a change of gears: a lifting of intensity. The Panthers shifted gears and began to overpower us. In response we maintained maximum effort without changing gears. The final score was 8-16, but it may as well have been 8-36 or worse. 

There was a game earlier in the year against the defending premiers which was likewise in the balance. Ours for the taking, if we were good enough. We weren't. We aren't. Woe are Bulldogs fans. Woe. Woe. Woe.

Maybe we should start calling ourselves the Berries again because we play football as well as fruit does.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things: A Visit to Heaven

I believe that earth is a mixture of heaven and hell. People, places and the experiences we have with them and at them. There are times when we feel like we are in Heaven and times when we feel like we are in Hell. However, these turn out be rare when compared with the 'in between' times, which to extend the analogy using a Roman Catholic concept, I will call purgatory: the waiting room. Most of us spend the majority of our time in the waiting room. True highs and lows, the agonies and ecstasies of life are not the norm, but that is exactly why we rejoice in the good times, and, armed with hope, we fight through the hard times. Last week was a week of highs.

Early Wednesday morning, I dropped my daughter at the airport to catch her flight back home to Wollongong via Sydney. The week she spent up here, in what some call paradise (dry season), Darwin, was so great. Wonderful on many levels and for many reasons.

I'm stoked that she came, and that we were able to do heaps of cool and fun stuff together. As Jessie  and I were working through the week, my daughter also had plenty of time to chill and enjoy being on her own: warm, relaxed and unhurried.

Last Saturday we drove to Litchfield National Park which is about 90 minutes from Darwin. It is just one of many places in and around Darwin where nature can be seen at her spectacular and beautiful best. One of the places inside the park we visited was Wangi Falls, and I can't imagine a more heavenly place. It was awesome. The photo, as is normally the case, does not do it justice.

I'm so grateful to have had this time with my daughter, who is now a young woman of whom I am immensely proud. But wait, there's more: this time next week, my mum will be here for a visit, and there's no need to say how much I am looking forward to that.

What's the most beautiful place you have visited? When have you felt like you were in heaven?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Bulldogs Blasted

At the conclusion of the match I tore off my jersey and threw it on the floor - I am prone to melodrama. The funny thing is, we scored first. We actually led 6-0, until we remembered that we don't know how to play. What can you say when your team negatively exceeds your low expectations? What can you say when the tiny flicker of hope is rudely and dramatically snuffed out by reality?

To be fair, we had very little possession...what? Wait a minute! The reason we had very little possession is because we either

  1. kept dropping the ball
  2. kept giving away stupid penalties
  3. missed so many tackles that the Broncos either scored, or were able to force drop outs and have repeat attacking sets
The truth is we were appalling as usual. The try we conceded right before half time epitomized how far we have fallen. I'm pretty sure, I could score a try against the Bulldogs at the moment - I mean, by myself.

This game against the Broncos was really our last throw of the dice. We simply had to win to have any hope of making the play-offs (or so they kept saying-as I laughed until my sides ached) and not only did we not win, we did not even come close to winning, and the opposition, The Broncos, were not THAT good.

Final score:     Broncos 42.   Bulldogs 12.

Only deeply ingrained thrift and sentimentality prevented me from tearing my Bulldogs jersey and throwing it away. (They are not cheap and this one was a gift from my children.) It is also true to say that even if we never win another game of rugby league, I will remain loyal to my team even if it kills me to do so.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Two Points Guaranteed

Under normal circumstances it would be hard to find something to say about your team's performance -either good or bad- when they did not play on the weekend. However, the demise of the 'once were mighty' Bulldogs is not an ordinary state of affairs.

Yes, we received two competition points for nothing, courtesy of a bye. Each team gets two of these during the season which makes it impossible for any team to finish the season with zero points. The byes are organised around the State of Origin period (New South Wales V Queensland) and are designed to give representative players are little bit of breathing space, and to offset the negative effects felt by teams with a high number of rep players who are unavailable for their clubs the weekend before each Origin game.

The Bulldogs had three players in the NSW team, but did it make any difference to our performances? No. Rep players or not, injured players out or's all the same. We try hard-most of the time-but seem unable to sustain the effort for the whole 80 minutes. In patches we look good, and our defense is not terrible. In fact we are ranked the third best defensive team as measured by number of points conceded.

Having such solid defense should see a team placed higher on the ladder. The best defensive team, Melbourne Storm, are leading the competition and also boost the best attack. Makes sense right? Statistics may not tell the whole story but they don't lie.

Why can't we score points? Here are the three things hindering our attack.

  1. Lack of organisation. The Bulldogs do not have a dominant organizing halfback.
  2. Lack of speed in the play the ball: both in the actual getting up and playing the ball, and in the service from dummy half.
  3. Lack of speed in the backline. The Bulldogs do not have any guns in the backs. The backs score most of the tries.
I rest my case. I can hardly wait to attack my team again next week after we have done battle  with one of the top eight contenders: the Brisbane Broncos. I would wish us luck but we need more than luck.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Celebrate the small things: mawish

Let me begin with a confession: I thought moreish was spelled mawish. I even confidently told a student so. M-A-W-I-S-H, I said, is a synonym for hungry, as in I'm feeling mawish. Yes, shocking isn't it? Not only the wrong spelling, but the wrong definition. Upon realising this grave error-just now- I have determined that I am no longer fit to teach English as a second language, and I will therefore be submitting a letter of resignation on Monday.

The timing is most unfortunate though, as I am soon to be, if my
information is correct, made permanent, having been unwillingly retained as a casual employee for nearly a year. I learned this piece of good news last night at a work dinner held to farewell one of our colleagues who received a better offer, and rightly accepted it.

I chose the restaurant: a little selfishly picking one within walking distance of home, so I could have a few drinks. The restaurant was called Moorish-no kidding. What a coincidence right?

Not at all. The name of this terrific tapas bar and restaurant made me think of the word mawish, which I now know is actually spelled moreish and evidently does not mean hungry, but rather refers to food which makes you want to eat more of it. You know the feeling: you taste something and you love it and you have to eat more of it.

Moorish refers to the Moors (North African Arabs), so Moorish food is cooked in the style of this region. We had a four course tapas banquet which featured a succession of wonderfully flavoured and textured dishes. Everyone was pleased with the food. We had a great night. The place was packed, but the service was sharp. Read my review of Moorish cafe. An all round winner, and the inspiration for this celebrate post in which I was all set to play with the words Moorish and Mawish. Unfortunately, as I explained earlier, mawish is not a word, but Moorish and moreish still works as an example of a pair of homophones.

Homophones? I guess I still have something to offer as an ESL teacher. Perhaps I won't quit after all. Maybe I'l stay and enjoy being made a permanent employee, which effectively means a pay rise. 

What do you think? Should I stay on? Have you eaten Moorish food? What food would you describe as moreish?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Strange Horizon

Title:The Strange Horizon                                     Glimpses into the Mind of a Dreamer

 ISBN: Ebook 978-1-62420-324-4

            Print     978-1548336950

Author: G. L. Didaleusky

Genre: Short Stories (mystery, suspense, contemporary, horror, science fiction and fantasy)

Excerpt Heat Level: 1

Book Heat Level: 1

 Buy at: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

A Collage of Short Stories emerged from my imagination--a few actual experiences--and some possibly conjured from a previous life, if you believe in reincarnation and Edgar Casey.

The Strange Horizon ranges from stories less than a hundred words to over four thousand words. There isn’t any profanity, gore or sexual innuendo in any of the short stories. The genre varies from mystery, suspense, contemporary, horror, science fiction and fantasy. You may smile, chuckle, express a tear or two, feel a sudden chill or feel a warmth at the end of the story. Emotions are in the mind of the reader and the heart cuddles or rejects those emotions.

Guiding Spirit

Adam leaned forward and slid his shovel between the sidewalk and six inches of snow. His peripheral vision saw someone walking toward him. He straightened up and gazed at an elderly man wearing a parka. A cold northern wind gently blew at the man’s white hair and long white beard. Adam threw the shoveled snow next to him and said, “How are you?”

“Just fine, thank you.”

“I’m Adam Morris.”

“Please to meet you. I’m Ben Stanton.”

“Didn’t you and your wife move into the old Kramer house last month.”

“Yes. We did.”

“Is everything all right there? It sat vacant for a few years.”

“It’s just fine. We’re very comfortable.”

“I heard you’re going to play Santa Claus at the family shelter on Christmas Eve,” Adam stated.

“Yes. I’m looking forward to it”

“You sure do fit the part. Don’t need an artificial beard.”

“No. I don’t,” Ben said, pulling at his beard.

“I understand you retired a few years ago.”

“That’s right.”

“What kind of work did you do?”

“Public relations for a large global company.”

“Did your wife retire too?”

“You ask a lot of questions. You must be a newspaper reporter.”

“Yes. I am. How did you know that?”

“You’re standing in front of the Northern Star Newspaper office.”

Adam rolled his eyes, grinned. “Never was good as an undercover reporter.”

Ben placed his hands on his large protruding abdomen and chuckled.

“You laugh from your belly just—”

“I know,” interrupted Ben. “Just like Santa on TV or in the movies.”

“Didn’t mean to offend you.”

“You didn’t. It doesn’t bother me at all. Matter of fact, I take it as a compliment.”

Two teen-aged boys approached them. “Hey old man, where’s your reindeers?’ asked one of the boys. The other boy snickered.

“Get out of here you juvenile delinquents.” Adam scowled at them.

The boys kicked snow on the shoveled sidewalk in defiance and took off running.

“You little brats.”

“They mean no harm,” interjected Ben. “They got good hearts. Their attitudes just need some guidance.”

“Being in public relations, I would think you’d have negative judgments of people.”

“No. I try to see positive attributes in people. It’s the way I am. Too old to change now.”

~ * ~

About a week before Christmas, the Santa at the mall became sick. Adam heard about it when the manager of the mall came into the newspaper office to place an ad in the paper. He contacted Ben, who accepted the position.

Ben sat in a large, adorned chair. A woman in her late twenties, holding the hand of a girl around six-years-old, walked up the red-carpeted entranceway and stopped a couple feet away from him.

“Hi, Santa,” said the little girl.

“Well, Jasmine, how are you today?”

“How did you know her name?” asked the woman, frowning.

“Santa knows all the boys and girls of the world. Although, I heard you call her name a few minutes ago when you walked behind me.”

“So, Jasmine. What do you want for Christmas?”

“A daddy. Mine died when I was a baby.”

“I’m not sure if Santa can promise you that.” Ben glanced at the mother. A tear ran down her cheek.

Jasmine’s face saddened, as her shoulders slumped. “That’s okay, Santa Claus. I still love you.”

“Bless your heart. What else can Santa bring you Christmas morning?”

“My own bed.”

“Do you share your bed with someone else?”

“Oh. No Santa. The shelter owns my bed.”

The mother leaned forward. “We’re staying at the family shelter in town. It’s just temporary until I earn enough money for a place of our own.”

“I hope things work out for you and your daughter. Have a Merry Christmas. And God bless you.” Ben handed Jasmine a candy cane.

~ * ~

On Christmas day, Adam sat at his dining room table surrounded by family members.

“I heard that Ben and his wife suddenly left town two days ago,” Carl remarked, Adam’s brother. “No one seems to know where they went.”

Adam frowned. “That’s strange. Ben was looking forward to playing Santa Claus at the family shelter.”

Maybe they wanted to spend Christmas with relatives in another town or state.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why’s that?” asked Carl.

“Ben and his wife were ‘only children’ and didn’t have any relatives. At least that’s what he told me a while back.”

~ * ~

“Jasmine, get over here.”

“Karen. She’s okay,” said a young man in his late twenties, sitting next to her on a bench in the mall. Across from them, they were dismantling the Santa Claus stage.

“I still can’t believe how we happened to meet after not seeing each other since high school.”

“Me either. The elderly man that was playing Santa here at the mall came into my store a few days before Christmas. He asked me if I would go to the family shelter on Christmas Eve dressed up like Santa. I couldn’t believe it when I saw you there.”

 Email address:

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Trying to Lose

Sixty percent possession and at least three or four real scoring opportunities ought to guarantee that you take a comfortable lead into half time. Likewise, playing at your spiritual home ground, in front of a full house of loyal fans in a match designated as send off/thank you for one of your most popular players: a player who epitomizes the team and everything they stand for - and yet one who the management of the club has decided to let go to another club - should ensure success.

Playing against a team of mainly rookies who are coming last in the competition and are also rated last in defense, should also guarantee not just a comfortable half time lead, but also a comfortable win and a much needed two competition points.

Perhaps if we were talking about any other club, this post would be redundant because what should have logically happened, would have actually happened. However, I am talking about my beloved Bulldogs who suck, and who furthermore in the dying stages of the game, looked like they were trying to lose.

Check out the highlights if you are interested, but here's what happened in a nutshell. By half time, the Doggies 8-0 lead had been reduced to 8-6, and was ,over the course of most of the second half, turned into a 18-8 deficit. We are ranked 4th in defense, so how, one may well ask, did the last placed team score three tries against us?

The Bulldogs hit back with two tries in five minutes, the last of which was converted with roughly ten seconds to go in the match. Score: Bulldogs 20. Knights 18. While the players were celebrating victory on the sideline, the opposition was rushing for one last kick off and a hail Mary play at the death. The short kick off resulted in the Knights being awarded a penalty with regular time expired.

The penalty was justified. The very same player mentioned earlier, the most popular Bulldog, the heart and soul of the team, committed a deliberate, and completely unnecessary foul to concede the penalty. A successful penalty kick would have locked the scores at 20-20 and forced the game into golden point extra time.

The Knights kicker made an embarrassingly bad attempt at kicking the goal and the Bulldogs won the match.

Was I happy about the win? Not really. It was an ugly win, and saying that a win is a win regardless of by how much you win or how you play, is fine when you are a premiership, or at least a play-offs contender. When you are neither, when you are a monumental disappointment to your fans...such a win feels hollow.

Bulldogs V Knights Round 18 match highlights

Friday, July 7, 2017

Celebrate the small things: a forest of daleks

I woke up feeling angry this morning, and it wasn't because it was Saturday and I didn't have to go to work -I like my job a lot- but it may have had something to do with the dream from which I awoke.

In a small and crowded backpacker hostel, I was telling everyone, during breakfast, about my cystectomy. The reactions of my extremely proximate house mates ranged from indifference to mild interest. Oh no not again.*

So I had some breakfast and decided to go for a walk, a long walk. I had planned to go to the gym, but I had a fairly heavy workout yesterday after work, and suspected the HiFit class I was planning on joining might kill me.

After 45 minutes I was still feeling agitated despite the perfect Dry Season weather and my favourite tunes filling my ears courtesy of one of my best friends: my iPod shuffle. I entered George Brown Botanic Gardens and was moderately intrigued by the African garden, walked through the Monsoon rainforest, and then I saw this.

I took some photos while reciting the words 'exterminate, exterminate' in my head, and proceeded up a hill because there was one available. (Darwin is generally very flat.) Half way up the hill I realized I wasn't angry anymore. The Dalek trees and the exertion of a brisk hill climb had blown the bad vibes away.

This week was the last student free one as the new term starts on Monday. I've had a very productive term break and I'm looking forward to actually teaching again, as opposed to preparing to teach. As usual I have much for which to be thankful, but particularly today, I'm celebrating Darwin's awesome weather, Dalek trees, hills, iPod shuffles and my job.

What do you do with your anger?

* One of the things I've learned about myself over the last few years is that I am overly interested in the opinions/reactions of others- which is incidentally why I should stay off social media. I can be a little childish in wanting attention. When I started writing about the dream, I was struck by the obvious manifestation of this truth in my dream.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Oh the humanity!

I apologize for the hyperbole, but when you hear my sad story, you will understand and forgive me.

In 1979, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs played the St.George Dragons in the rugby league Grand Final. I was at a relatives house surrounded mostly by Dragons fans. I was 11 years old and it was on this day that my love affair with the Bulldogs began in earnest. I would have gone to live games before with Dad, who was also a Doggies fan, and I would have watched many games on TV, but the Grand Final of 1979 was the moment I first remember being emotionally effected by the performance of a sporting team.

At half time of the aformentioned game the Dogs were behind 17-0, and I, unable to bear it, left the house to spend the second half doing what boys do in backyards. The final score was 17-14. I missed the exciting second half comeback which despite not giving us victory, did help set the platform for a premiership win the following year against the Roosters. (see below) and provide a seminal moment in my life.

That 1980 title win was the first of four for the Bulldogs in that decade. ('84, '85 and '88) We won again in 1995 and once more in 2004. More recently we qualified for the Grand Final in 2012 and 2014 - unfortunately losing on both occasions.

This year we suck! After 17 rounds we are down the bottom of the table with the also-rans who have no hope of making the play-offs this year. I am appalled by how bad we are, so to comfort myself I am going to dedicate Tuesdays for the rest of the season to lamenting and lambasting my beloved Bulldogs.

To close on a positive note, here is a glorious moment from the past. One of the most famous of all Grand Final tries. This is from the 1980 when we were known as The Entertainers of rugby league.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Celebrate the small things: some toilet paper and a spade

Let me say right off the bat that I am not a BCF* guy. Admittedly, we camped on our road trip to Darwin, but we drove from sun up to sunset each day and pitched our super easy to set up tent before eating, showering and sleeping. That's more like just sleeping in a tent rather than camping.

Real Men is the name of the mens' ministry group at my church, and we had a mens' camp last weekend which is why I didn't write a 'celebrate' blog last week. I took the longest time to decide to go on this camp, and a mate of mine was in the same boat. Eventually we talked each other into it in the belief that God wanted us there for some reason: that, despite our reticence, it would be good for us somehow.

The campsite was only accessible by 4WD and there were no amenities. Apart from the abundance of equipment brought along by the BCF guys (that is everyone else) this was real camping complete with campfire on the beach. 

It was a weekend of many firsts for me. I had never driven along a beach in a 4WD for example, but there is one debut experience in particular which I want to share with you.

One of the guys returned from somewhere and drove a spade into the ground. It functioned as a giant toilet roll holder even though there was just one roll on it. After breakfast on the first morning, I grabbed the spade and toilet roll and asked some of the guys for some advice about doing what bears do. 'Dig deep and cover well,' was the pearl of wisdom I received.

To spare you the unsavoury details of my expedition to answer the call of nature, I'll just say this: I really appreciated my toilet when I got home. I'm also very thankful for toilet paper.

Aside from the overabundance of conversations about 4WDs and fishing, I really enjoyed the experience and I now know why I was there. It wasn't for me, but for my mate who I learned had good reason to be very reluctant to go camping. I applaud his bravery and I'm glad I was there.

Have I converted to an outdoorsman? Am I now a BCF guy? No. Will I camp again? Probably. Are you a BCF person? Or do you prefer less adventurous forms of recreation?

* BCF There is a outdoor recreation store in Australia called BCF which stands for Boating Camping Fishing.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Celebrate the small things: teach me

Student X, whose departure was due this week, but which I celebrated last week, did not attend any classes in his final week. However, he did come and see me before class on his last day to say goodbye. It was a slightly awkward conversation during which I'm pretty sure he never said thank you or sorry, but he did wish me well for the future. I shook his hand and honestly wished him good fortune as well. (even though I don't really believe in fortune as such.) He made me want to be a better teacher and a better person. I should have thanked him, but I did not how to do it. Too late now, but thank you student X.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) sent me a letter to say they are cancelling my Australian Business Number (ABN) because there is no evidence that I am carrying on a business -which isn't true by the way. I was very surprised to receive this letter, and annoyed that I have to contact a huge government department and argue with them when I know they don't care. Now, I'm thinking about how seldom I have used my ABN, and how much more often I could have potentially used it. And still could. This notification from the ATO re-fired ambition in my heart. (Go figure!)Thank you massive, uncaring government department.

Amazon contacted me to say my latest royalty payment could not be paid because it been rejected by my bank. I don't understand why, and neither was Amazon able to provide an explanation. Big organisations can be very uncreative when it comes to solving their customer's problems. This little irritation reminded me that although I may not be setting the publishing world on fire, I am selling books, so thank you Amazon for your inexplicable banking disturbances.

What little, seemingly negative thing taught you something this week? Or made you feel grateful? (even if that was not your initial reaction)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

My Last Sunset

Title: My Last Sunset                                
Author: Christian Chiakulas
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-62420-322-0
POD ISBN: 978-1546836339

Genre: Mystery/Crime
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 3

Buy at: Rogue Phoenix Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Christian will give one digital copy of My Last Sunset to a randomly drawn commenter.


Although it is not described in detail, this book deals with sexual


An antisocial teen sets out to solve the mystery of why Jessica  Carpenter killed herself in the halls of their high school.


My Last Sunset is a hard-boiled detective story set in a contemporary American high school. Damon Riley is an angry, antisocial teenager with a penchant for solving mysteries.  His life is shaken up when Jessica Carpenter, a girl in the grade below his, shoots herself in the halls of the school itself, leaving behind a note that names him as the culprit for driving her to suicide.  Taking the bait, Damon embarks on a quest to find out what really happened to Jessica, leading him through a web of conspiracy, betrayal, and brutality.  Along the way he learns more than he ever dreamed possible about the girl he could never have saved.


Michael might be having the same idea as me, because he says, "Hey, you hear about that freshman who killed herself?"

"She was a sophomore," I say, staring ahead at the blackboard.

"Oh," Michael says. He's a senior, so it makes sense he wouldn't know."

"That's right, I knew that." Liar. "You heard she did it here?"

"Yeah, in the bathroom downstairs," I say. This class is on the fourth  floor. Jessica killed herself on the second. The music was so loud from the dance that nobody heard the gunshot, and she didn't get found until a janitor came in the next day. She'd been absent from school Thursday and Friday last week, and I heard her mom had reported her missing to the police. Then, for whatever reason, she came back to school to end her life.

What the hell, Jessica.

It's not that I can't believe it. Jessica was a nice girl, I think, and seemed happy a lot of the time, but seeming happy and being happy aren't the same thing; you don't have to be smart to know or even articulate that. Like I said, I didn't know her that well, but I knew her a little; enough to see that, like the rest of us, she had shit going on she didn't talk about. What I didn't see was that she was the kind of person who couldn't deal with it, like we all do.

Or that it was the kind of shit that can't be dealt with."Heard she left a note," Michael says, and now I'm aware that he's looking at me even though his face hasn't moved. His eyes moved.I didn't hear anything about a note. Whatever was going on with her, she definitely wanted to be found, wanted somebody to know.

Or maybe everybody.

Half a dozen more people stream in over the next two or three minutes; this class is pretty small to begin with and there are four absent. The eight o'clock bell rings just as Goldman appears in the doorway. Behind him is Panzer, one of the school's security guards (not his real name,
but it should be).I raise an eyebrow as Goldman enters the classroom and the talking dies down. Then he looks right at me and says, "Damon, could you please go with Mr. Cousins to the dean's office?"

A low "Oooooh..." goes through the small class, and I stand up, wondering what the hell I did. Usually when I'm in trouble, I know exactly why. As I cross the room to where Panzer is standing, arms folded across his chest, I notice the two girls who'd been in the room early shooting me nasty looks, like I personally wronged them. I don't even know their names.

Panzer steps aside to let me exit the room first then closes the door after us. I throw my messenger bag over my shoulder and look at him.

"What's this about," I say, a little worried.

"Just walk."

The halls are deserted, and I stare at the floor as we walk to the main nexus where the stairwells are, passing over the blurry reflections of the fluorescent lights in the freshly-waxed floor. The dean's office is on the second floor, right down the hall from the girl's bathroom. I stare at the door as we pass it.

The dean's office is small, considering there are three deans that share it along with a secretary and the school's sole counselor. The hub is a yellow-painted room with the secretary's desk, several file cabinets, a large wooden conference table, doors to the private offices of the deans and counselor, and plastic bins hanging on the walls filled with handouts and leaflets about substance abuse, sexual abuse, good ol' fashioned domestic abuse, birth control, STDs, juvie, and there at the end— suicide.

The three deans are all sitting at the conference table along with the counselor, Mrs. Mullen, and the school's police liaison, Officer Pasture. A pit drops into my stomach. Whatever I did, it must've been
"Damon, please sit," Dean Goodfellow says. He's a pudgy man with long blonde hair and a face like a bulldog; if you're picturing him comically, stop, because everyone in this school is terrified of him, including yours truly. The other two, Dean Haskins and Dean Washington, are serious men, but none attack their jobs with the rage-filled passion of Dean Goodfellow. He runs this school like it's the streets of Baltimore in The Wire, keeping detailed, ever-growing files on every student with the misfortune to cross his path and trading favors to some of them for information. I'm not gonna lie, I've gotten out of more than one detention this way. Wouldn't you know it, he's in charge of students
with surnames P-Z.

But they're all three here, which means this is really serious. I pull up the blue plastic seat across from him, willing myself not to break eye contact, and Panzer disappears outside. The secretary isn't here
either. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. What's going on?

"Damon," Goodfellow says, shifting in his seat and locking his fingers together on the table in front of him. Everybody else at the table is staring at their laps; they know the drill. When Goodfellow is
working...interrogating, more let him be.

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Twitter handle: @ChrisChiakulas

Friday, June 9, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things: good-bye and good riddance

I'm going off a week early here, but that's because a secondary departure occurred which also pleased me. The primary departure will occur when my my current least favourite student, and arguably my least favourite student of all time, leaves.

I've had a real struggle with him over the six months he has been with me. The first day I met him, he explained that his grammar and spelling were not good, so I told him that we could fix that. He said 'No, we can't.' I knew, therefore, from the get go that he was going to be difficult, if not impossible, to teach. How do you teach unteachable people? How do you open closed minds? I have no idea.

Rather than bore you with the details, I'll save my X (student's name) stories for other occasions. Suffice to say, he has caused me angst and made my job difficult. A mostly negative influence on the class, a bigot and a self confessed misanthrope, he will not be missed. 

Secondary departure occurred when another student, who also possesses a poor attitude and is lazy, decided to transfer to another college to do another course. I desperately wanted to advise him to lose the attitude or he would bomb out of his next course as he did my course. However, as he only showed up for three hours this week (out of 20 required) to do his catch up assessments and exit test, I thought better of it.

My problem is that I care more about the education of my students than most of them do. I love my job and I am thankful for it. I am also thankful for my students-past, present and future, both good and bad. I am thankful that I care, and that after 11 years, I still care, and by the grace of God I have not grown weary in doing my best.

The challenge for me remains though; to love the unlovable. How do you deal with closed-minded and negative people, especially those with whom you spend a fair bit of time?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Celebrate the small things: a crocodile burger

What makes Mindil Beach market special is the location. A mouth-watering collection of food from around the world is available and once you have your food you can walk not more than 50 metres to the beach where you can sit and watch the spectacular sunset.

I don't know if a Darwin sunset is uniquely extraordinary in fact, or by reputation alone, but it is something magnificent to behold. It is a natural light show of stunning beauty.

Usually there are but a handful of people on the beach to say good-bye to the day, but on Thursday nights during the Dry with the market teeming with locals and visitors, the sand is littered with happy and relaxed people. The atmosphere is heavenly.

Last Thursday, Jessie and I were among them. She ate some barbecued octopus while I had my first taste of crocodile. The Road Kill Cafe offered a selection of buffalo, kangaroo and crocodile burgers. Having often eaten and enjoyed kangaroo, and sampled a buffalo pie at the Pink Panther Hotel on our road trip up to the Top End, I wanted to try crocodile.

The verdict? Quite nice. A tender patty which was like a combination of chicken and fish, on a roll with fresh slaw, and sauce. The hot chips which accompanied it were really great, and the whole meal only cost $15. I liked the burger, and I loved the whole experience.

What a sweet life I live. I thank God for it.

What unusual foods have you tried, and what did you think?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Before the Dawn

Title: Before the Dawn: A Howl in the Night Book 3
Author: Courtney Rene
ISBN: 978-1-62420-325-1
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal

Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 2

Buy at: Rogue Phoenix Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Courtney will be giving away a digital copy of Before the Dawn.


Darkness continues to haunt Abby since her escape from the Hunterz. Questions continue to circle.
Who are they, really? Why do they hate the wolves so much?


Seventeen year old Abby can’t shake the darkness that continues to haunt her since her escape from the Hunterz. She can’t let it go. Questions continue to circle. Questions no one will answer. Who are they, really? Why do they hate the wolves so much? The answers could be found in a young boy named, Sam. He may be from the Hunterz, but he smells of wolf. Derek wants to believe her, and tries to help, but Abby still hasn’t learned how to accept help from others. Her relationships with her mother and father continue to deteriorate, but Derek is a puzzle. Some days he’s exactly what she wants and others he is all that she despises. Being a shifter isn’t as simple as she thought it would be. The wolf part is easy. It’s the human side that needs a little work.


I huddled in the darkness, barely aware of the passing hours and days. The wolf ate when she was hungry. She found mice and rodents to catch and devour. I was barely aware of the chase or the joy she found in the hunt. The wolf drank from streams and creeks along her journey. She slept when she was tired and traveled the rest of it.

I was aware the forest was starting to look familiar, but I didn't care enough to wonder why or where I was. When the big white sprawling house came before us, I realized the wolf had brought us to the only other place she knew to go: Aunt Lilly's.

I didn't leave the safety within the wolf when we arrived at the house. I was aware when we stepped onto the porch and dropped to the cool white washed boards where the wolf curled up and slept, but I stayed safe, hidden deep. The wolf and the instincts that drove her protected us. I was happy to let her lead. I was happy to be carried wherever she decided to go. I slept as the wolf did throughout the rest of the night.

When the wolf woke, I woke with her. We were still curled on the porch, but we were within a pile of dogs that had come to keep us safe and warm and offer company. The wolf was happy for the companions, as I was not able to be one. I was silent and empty and had nothing to give right then. I had nothing left to offer her.

I saw my Aunt come out on the porch, and I saw the moment she recognized me for what I was. "Abby, honey. What are you doing here?"

I shrank back deeper within the wolf, and as the wolf had nothing to say to her in that form, Aunt Lilly was left at a loss. She crouched down before us and ran her hands over my head and down my back. "You look a little worse for wear. Do you want to come in and eat? Maybe get a shower and some clothes?"

I wasn't coming out of the wolf form. I realized that had been my intention the whole time. I simply hadn't been ready to face it. I was obviously not very good as a human, so I would try being a wolf for a bit. I used a little more energy and turned my head away from her and dropped it back down on my front paws.

"Abby? What's wrong?"

I had no answer for her, so I didn't move or acknowledge her question. I didn't know what to tell her. I was still feeling sorry for myself, and I didn't have a plan of how to fix it other than to ignore it. I was happy as a wolf. Why did I have to be a human anyway?

She stayed crouched down next to me for a long time. She tried to talk to me, but I didn't answer. Finally, she gave up and stepped back. Her dog friends stayed with me, protecting me in their own way. She surveyed the pile of us then said, "Well, I guess I'll check on you in a bit."

I closed my eyes and went back to sleep. I spent the next few days hardly moving a muscle. What was the point? Aside from getting up to empty my bladder or get a drink of water, I stayed on the porch, quiet and still. Aunt Lilly stopped trying to talk to me, but she did continue to sit with me and offer what comfort she could by way of gentle caresses or tidbits of food she could tempt me with, or just simple water. The best part was when she sat in the white rocker and just rocked. Her being there was enough. Sometimes when she sat there, I would get up and sit next to her, just to be close to someone who gave a damn about me. Just me. Not what I could do for her, or what I could do for the clan. She just cared about me.

Why was I so unlovable by everyone else? Why didn't my mother want me anymore? Why did my father only see me for what I offered the clan? Why didn't Derek just want me? Why. Why. Why! What was so wrong with just being me?

It was times like those that even in wolf form I was able to cry. When the hurt of the world grew to immense I could not hold it in anymore. I cried the sounds of the wolf, even if it didn't come with the tears of a human. Aunt Lilly wouldn't press or talk, she was simply there with me as I tried to handle the sadness overwhelming me. She'd caress my head and continue to rock.

I don't know how long things went on like that. Maybe a few days, maybe it was an entire week. I do know when it came to an abrupt end. Morning arrived with a definite chill in the air. I didn't notice the cold all that much, thanks to my warm fur, but also because Aunt Lilly's dogs took shifts with what I thought of as protecting me. There were always a handful of them, either lying next to me or with me, or whatever. I was never cold or alone. They knew I was hurting and they in their animal wisdom stayed with me as comfort. Animals are awesome. People…suck.


Courtney Rene lives in the State of Ohio with her husband and two children. She is a graduate and
member of the Institute of Children’s Literature. Her writings include magazine articles, short fiction stories, several anthologies, as well as her young adult novels, A Howl in the Night and the Shadow Dancer series, published through Rogue Phoenix Press. For a complete listing, visit www.ctnyrene.blogspot com or feel free to contact her at

Website URL:
Twitter handle: @ctnyrene

Friday, May 26, 2017

Celebrate the small things: a bit of greenery

Cities are not typically associated with trees. I know most cities have parks and they have trees, but, for me anyway, when I think of cities I think of tall buildings and lots of cars of people. Noise, street signs, advertising, busyness etcetera, which I think is the reason I like Darwin. Darwin doesn't really feel like a city.

There are tall buildings: offices, hotels and apartments, and there are cars and people, but not many. It's pretty quiet all around. It's also quite green. Our street, which is a short narrow one running between two main streets, has trees and even a grass verge to separate the sidewalk from the road. The two aforementioned streets are lined with trees, serious trees: large and leafy ones which overhang the road and provide shade for the smokers.

Darwin is a green city. During the dry season ubiquitous built-in irrigation systems sustain the faunic (another new word there - when will this end?) thirst, and of course when the rains come, the city shifts to a whole new level of green.

Finally, this week, I am thankful for the arrival of green into our apartment. Jessie decided we needed some plants on the balcony because, she said, it will help keep the apartment cool - even though that's what the air conditioning is for (I didn't say). I like the plants because they make this place feel like a home instead of a hotel apartment.

I reckon out of everything you can do to make a house feel like a home, adding plants is right up there. What do you think?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Celebrate the small things: Would you like a beer with your haircut?

Before any of you smarty pants want to comment about my lack of hair and the therefore completely redundant need for me to visit a hairdresser, I should tell you that the guy at the salon we visited had the same cut as me and he insisted that his girls 'layered it' for him, and told him it looked good.

Jessie Rose was the one who booked a haircut at HD Hair Studio in Smith St, Darwin. Reluctantly I accepted her invitation to accompany her, comforting myself with the thought that I would be able to get some reading done while Jessie had her wash, blow and cut.

Upon our arrival at the salon, we were greeted by the aforementioned handsome fellow, who offered us a seat and a drink. Water, coffee, tea, wine or beer? I looked at him wondering if he knew he was in a hair salon not a bar. 'It's complimentary,' he said. 'Yes,' I replied with excessive enthusiasm - because I like beer and 'free' is my favourite price. I have never heard of complimentary alcoholic beverages at hair salons, but I rarely visit them, so perhaps HD is not unique.

I had two free beers (Millers Chill with lime) while I read The Count of Monte Cristo on my phone and listened to a selection of 80s classics. 

I have never had a more enjoyable visit to a hairdresser and they didn't even touch my head. It cost $90 which Jessie assured me was a reasonable price, and she was happy with the cut so it was all good. Everyone's a winner, baby!

What's the service like where you get your hair done?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Perfect Timing

Author Jeffery J. Smith  will be awarding a digital copy of Perfect Timing to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Title: Perfect Timing
Author: Jeffery J. Smith
ISBN: 978-1-62420-321-3
Genre: Sci-fi
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 1

Accidentally sucked from the present, caterer Crik must prove he started the trend that led to the future’s utopia—or be returned to waiting bullets.

 Accidentally transported to the future, caterer Crik escapes house-arrest with Tepper, his possible distant descendant. While pursued by volunteer vigilante Voltak, goofball Crik explores Geotopia—where buildings grow, people incorporate animal powers, smart phones know it all, and vehicles defy gravity—seeking clues. If he can discover, understand, and articulate the future’s public policy that works right for everybody, he can prove he was their founder, the lone agent of change who put society on its path toward universal prosperity and harmony with nature. If he fails to convince the Futurite Authorities, they wouldn’t return their unexpected visitor to the exact second he left—something their law requires—to the moment when a hail of gunfire was bearing down on the luckless caterer and college dropout...would they?
 The image of a bellhop perches first on one leg then the other by the edge of a roof of a downtown skyscraper. Gazing downward, with both hands he raises a golf club over his head. The scene occurs on a large monitor.
Far below, the people look like a school of minnows flitting across the downtown central plaza. Others resemble tufts of beach grass clumped around street performers break dancing or juggling. The bellhop arches his back.
In a darkened laboratory, two wide-eyed technicians wearing white coats watch the monitor. In grainy color, the young man bends and stretches. Mouths agape, the viewers take notes and wipe their brows.
"This is your candidate?" the taller researcher says. "This golfer? Crik Duvall?"
The shorter one nods. "He's a bellhop, too."

~ * ~

At the wall atop the city's tallest hotel, Crik in the hotel's uniform lowers his club. The height does not frighten him, rather, the view always intrigues him. People sure look little, Crik thinks. Must be how landlords see us.
Crik takes a few practice swings. He steps back from the edge and tees up. He drives a Whiffle golf ball into the air without a hitch. The headwind blows the hollow ball back to him. He catches it. Yes! He replaces the plastic ball on the tee — yo-yo golf.
Lifting his bellhop cap, Crik runs his fingers through bleached streaks. Yo-yo golf will challenge enthusiasts of all nations, even become an Olympic event. I could pay down my tuition. Even help Randy with his debt. How dumb, messing with dudes from the vodka importers convention. What'd he know about ostrich racing anyway?
Crik's knuckles are tattooed with esoteric symbols. A stud twinkles in one ear but no weighty choker worries his swing. He's up to twenty-three straight successful drives-then-catches, closing in on his personal best.
The word "Fore!" rings out from a phone in his pocket, but he ignores it.
Steadying himself, Crik cocks his club for another swing and drives the white ball into the onrushing breeze.
Crik blinks. The plastic dot sails past him, into the void. Zippers.
"Whenever you don't answer your phone, I know where to find you."
Crik looks over his shoulder, resting the club on his other one.
Randy lets the door close behind him. "My man, break be over." Also a bellhop, Randy has his cap is on backwards. As he crosses the roof, his body lags behind his head, his neck nearly level.
Like offering his empty melon to a guillotine, poor sucker. Crik takes out a twenty-dollar bill. "Another big date before next payday, bro?"
"Man, you are like family." Randy takes the note.

~ * ~

"'Crik'. That short for cricket?" People always ask.
No, Crik was named Crik because Brook was already taken; his older brother got named that.
"Oh, I get it," the hotel manager said when interviewing Crik, "Creek."
Crik nodded. His hair waved, didn't curl, despite him being the black sheep of the family. "Yeah, Crik."
Crik is too busy to finish college. How many decades would it take to pay off the student loan — a necklace of stone — anyway? Especially with good friends unable to budget themselves. Better to have a fun job. Make money and enjoy life.

~ * ~

In the gloomy laboratory, tall Dr. Alvin Ultra and his short assistant Yuri Ivanov, both middle-aged, emit gasps and wag their heads, jotting down notes.
The monitor, thin as a sheet, hangs from a ceiling in a high corner. It's cabled to a device shaped like an oversized dog biscuit with a sharp point like a syringe, big as a sled, some parts shiny, some opaque. Colored wires twist and run to other odd-shaped devices that whir and jerk.
Crik hides his club on the ledge beyond the perimeter wall.
Dr. Ultra glances at Yuri. "Neither of these two has indicated any interest in social evolution, never mind founding an entirely new way of viewing the world."
Under his beret and bushy eyebrows, Yuri shrugs. "Destinon said to check out this moment."

~ * ~

The two bellhops enter the hotel's darkened conference hall. It's packed like a tent revival on the eve of the Second Coming. Of course. Who hates money?
Strains of Wagner's majestic movements accompany the big-screen video of unabashed luxury: Acres of vineyards remind Crik of the south of France where he'd backpacked one summer. A sleek car barely looking street-legal swerves through hills.
"Tesla Roadster," Crik whispers to Randy. "0 to 60 in 3.7."
On the screen, a limousine grand enough for comfortably hosting small celebrations sits in the driveway of a mansion with the long lines of Frank Lloyd Wright draped over a seaside cliff. Inside, fashion models adorned with jewelry befriend vain hosts sipping champagne. Famous paintings hang on the walls.
Crik leans over to his pal. "I've a print of that Van Gogh."
"With his autograph?" Randy whispers.
Crik frowns. "Ethics teaches us virtue is its own reward."
Randy frowns. "Economics teaches that reward is its own virtue."
My reward would be to never get another bill, late notice, or harassing phone call.
A sharp-dressed salesman in a flawless Armani suit strides onstage. His shiny hair neatly styled, Julian Seizure keeps his posture erect and full-chested, as would a cocksure general before his troops. His blistering smile stretches his narrow-featured face.
Seizure fires his words forcefully and pounds the air with a fist, keeping time with his avarice. "Andrew Carnegie, a billionaire back when a dime bought you a complete breakfast, noted, and I quote: 'It takes hard work to amass a fortune in industry, but any fool can get rich in real estate.'"
Perking up, Randy whispers to Crik, "Did he say any fool?" His eyebrows bounce up and down.
The big screen shows slender beauties gliding in Olympic-size pools and robust businessmen driving golf balls a mile down the links. The pitchman exhales. "The old boy nailed it. Nothing else comes close to how much people pay over the course of their lives for a place to live. Directly or indirectly, a big part of everyone's spending goes to a lease or mortgage."
The sea of heads nod in assent. The speaker opens his hands in empathy. "Since all of us have been foolish at least once …"
Amid the sea of heads, only Randy bobs agreeably — until he sees nobody else owning up and slinks lower into his seat.
"Why are we not all very well off?" The instant-riches guru taps his skull. "Foresight." Seizure stares down his audience. "It's not speculation when you see what's coming."
Crik snorts. Too good to be true. "Why can't telling the unvarnished truth work to sell?"
"I believe!" Randy says.
"Time to go, bro." Crik tugs his friend's sleeve. "I've a better idea. You think Seizure plays golf?"


 Jeffery J. Smith’s credits are in nonfiction, being published in both the popular and academic press on “geonomics” (ecological economics). Before switching to fiction, he edited the news site, the Progress Report and contributed regularly to TruthOut. His newsletter, The Geonomist, won a California Greenlight Award. He taught both English and composition and was a graduate scholar in linguistics. An inventor of games and engines, he lives on the West Coast and winters in Latin America, listening to tall tales.