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Dawn Downey's Blog: Stories About Mindfulness, Gratitude, and Transformation

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Dawn Downey's Blog: Stories About Mindfulness, Gratitude, and Transformation

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  • Dawn Downey
  • December 01, 2014 11:49:52 AM
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My outlook on daily life will inspire you and make you laugh.

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Summer in January

Winter here in the flatlands. In spite of pulling the comforter up to my chin, while wearing a down coat on top of fleece jacket on top of insulated underwear, my goose bumps have goosebumps. A macabre gray sky hovers over my neighborhood. Our streets are an icy network of accidents waiting to happen. Make yourself a cup of hot tea, and join me as I teleport into a sunny memory.###Alone and lost, I snaked uphill on a two-lane road in the foothills. Anger disrupted my concentration. The intended...

Winter here in the flatlands. In spite of pulling the comforter up to my chin, while wearing a down coat on top of fleece jacket on top of insulated underwear, my goose bumps have goosebumps. A macabre gray sky hovers over my neighborhood. Our streets are an icy network of accidents waiting to happen. Make yourself a cup of hot tea, and join me as I teleport into a sunny memory.

###

Alone and lost, I snaked uphill on a two-lane road in the foothills. Anger disrupted my concentration. The intended plan for this final day of my California vacation? Me in the passenger seat, sipping a cold pop and soaking up the scenery. My brother was supposed to be driving. That didn’t pan out.

Brother Dear had gone off on his own escapade, instead of chauffeuring me to the Hindu temple for which I currently searched. He’d sent me off with written directions and a cheery, “Have a good time.”

His instructions had culminated in a “soft Y intersection,” whatever the heck that was. Hoping to coax it into existence, I leaned forward against the steering wheel and squinted at the sun. The horizon receded. Street signs materialized, raised my hopes, dashed them, slid past. As each one disappeared, my palms grew clammier and my mouth drier.

Vacations. I was secretly afraid of them. The mere thought of them made me tremble like an acrophobic facing a ladder. Every holiday became an exercise in avoiding risk while maintaining an illusion of carefree abandon. It was necessary to frequent the same haunts year after year and create meticulous plans, in order to avoid spontaneity. Whenever it threatened, I reneged on commitments, turned down invitations, and passed up adventures. My mantra was no thanks, think I’ll stay in and read.

The shrinking of my world came into focus after eighty-year-old Uncle Al returned from an Alaskan cruise. He lamented it was his last, because he’d sailed to every destination offered by every cruise line. Twenty years his junior, lacking the courage to venture to foreign ports, passport used only for airport identification, I was sick of being a chicken.

A visit halfway across the country presented the opportunity to force a showdown with my tendency to cower under the covers. First, I confronted the quaking woman in the bathroom mirror. Listen up, scaredy cat. You’re not the boss of me anymore. Next, grabbed my favorite blankey. Finally, flopped onto the bed and opened the laptop.

According to the airlines, a circuitous route cost a hundred dollars less than a direct flight to my destination, Santa Barbara. That meant landing in Los Angeles and then driving up the coast. The cursor blinked over the purchase icon. Drive through big city traffic? My car shaking in the wake of more confident vehicles, horns nagging from behind at every stoplight? I bought the more expensive flight, straight into Santa Barbara.

My sister Leslie met me at the airport, escorted me to the car rental booth, and lobbied for an upgrade. “You always go for the dinky, cheap cars. Try something new.”

Something new. My cheeks heated up. I was terrified to operate a full-sized sedan, but embarrassed to look bad by saying no. I nodded to the clerk, and she handed over the keys to a Toyota Camry.

Fortunately, Leslie insisted on driving. She eased the car out of the parking lot. She played the dashboard like a baby grand. “Where’s my station? Let’s crank up the AC.” She poked and prodded the new toy. I was afraid to break it.

The next day I phoned my best friend, who lived in Los Angeles. According to my plan, she would motor up to Santa Barbara for our reunion. Instead, she asked that we meet at a restaurant midway between the two cities. “Girlfriend, you know I love you, but I do not feel like driving.”

Neither did I, but she’d made the trip many times. I would have to drive through the big city after all. What with urban sprawl, the midpoint lay well inside Los Angeles.

On the agreed-upon day, I washed down a couple of aspirins with a few gulps of antacid and pointed the car toward LA.

The highway paralleled the ocean. Nothing chased away my demons like the Southern California coastline on a cloudless morning. A press of the window button sucked a rush of salt-scented air into the car. The Pacific sprayed mist against my face. Gulls screamed. Wind whipped through my hair.

The road turned inland, and I shivered. Straight ahead lay the Conejo Grade, a three-mile 1,000-foot rise in elevation.

Back in the 1970s––my apartment in LA and my family in Santa Barbara––I’d been a regular commuter on the Conejo Grade. In the ‘70s, the grade tormented my no-frills used car. The little coupe, its plugs rusted and engine in need of a tune-up, strained all the way. The temperature needle crept toward the red. Every time my rolling wreck finally crested the summit, its cruising speed had dropped from sixty-five to ten. But that was in the 1970s.

Forty years later––brand new sedan. The speed remained constant, the temperature gauge stock-still.

Forty years later––same old sissy. Palms still sweaty, stomach still queasy. I fought with the past for every yard of progress up the hill, resisting the urge to drift into the slow lane … to let up on the accelerator … to throw up.

I exited the highway, pulled over, and studied the directions scribbled on a fast-food receipt. Left, right, left, left. Landmarks appeared on cue. Tension settled down to a manageable level, until a traffic sign appeared that read, “Not a Through Street.” Anxiety returned. Self-criticism followed. After all, it was a sun-washed morning in California, not a freezing night on Everest. It was a road sign, for God’s sake, not a nascent avalanche. But there I sat, temples pulsing, shoulders aching, bravado cringing under the seat.

The street ended in a turn-around landscaped with roses in full bloom. Half a bottle of Pepto-Bismol later, the restaurant parking lot came into view.

My buddy greeted me with open arms. “Girl, you look fantastic. So happy and calm. What’s your secret?”

Decades of practice made me proficient at being a fraud.

The trip to LA produced a migraine that validated my distaste for exploring what other people called scenic byways. I preferred the predictable grid created by north-south intersecting east-west, unless I occupied the passenger seat while someone else took the wheel.


That was the intention for the final day of vacation. Wayne and I planned to visit a Hindu temple in the Santa Ynez Mountains. He volunteered to drive. The trip would be a tonic: a time to relax, enjoy the view, and give up the quest for bravery.

When he announced his plans had changed, I felt like a five-year-old, all dressed up for a birthday party that had just been canceled.

He offered an alternative. “It’s easy to find. You can still go by yourself.”

“No thanks. Think I’ll … well … okay.”

He proceeded, pre-GPS. “At the last Santa Barbara exit, turn left under the bridge. Drive the frontage road to the deer trail that follows the ridgeline, and then snake around the switchbacks until you come to a soft Y intersection. The sign for the temple is painted on a rock.”

I punched him on the shoulder.

“On second thought, I’ll MapQuest it for you,” he said.

The two sets of directions bore no common traits, except the left turn from the exit. A toddler could have figured that out. A right turn off the interstate plunged one into the Pacific.

Lost after ten minutes, I stopped for directions at a grocery store, where the clerk explained that the route was simpler than it sounded. But longer.

I clutched the wheel, praying for that soft Y turn. Million-dollar homes peeked from among the pines. The trip meter turned over every tenth mile with the persistence of a dripping faucet. My head was pounding, squeezed between a longing for immediate rescue and an intolerance for foolish overreaction.

I pulled into a driveway to allow a train of cars to go around. Flashes of color bobbed in the side mirror. Balloons attached to a mailbox indicated a realtor’s open house. The display marked a subtle curve in the road, where a lane hardly wider than the driveway intersected my route. The elusive soft Y turn.

Woohoo! The lane led straight to the rock that marked the entrance to the temple grounds.

Safe in the parking lot, I rested my head on the steering wheel and bit my bottom lip to keep it from trembling. It trembled anyway.

My big showdown backfired. Instead of helping me to overcome my fears, this stupid vacation had invited them along to taunt me. New-car nervousness. City-driving anxiety. Altered-plan phobia. Fancy words for chicken.

An urge to cry surprised and embarrassed me.

Grabbing the keys, I shoved open the door and stumbled out of the car.

The lot was deserted. Thank goodness I could pull myself together without any onlookers. I leaned against the car frame with my arms on the roof. I’d made it this far, may as well have a look around.

Evergreen shrubs surrounded the parking area. Beyond them, pines. Mountain peaks––blue-gray specters in the distance––soared over the treetops.

Made it.

A breeze carried the scent of eucalyptus.

Me.

The scaredy cat had ascended the Conejo Grade. The homebody had forged past the dead-end sign. The bookworm had climbed through the foothills.

Me.

Who’d put down her novel, changed her plans, and tackled an adventure. I’ll be damned. I made it.

A deep breath puffed up my chest and a sigh released my past. I slammed the car door closed.

A footpath wound uphill, but no building was visible from the parking lot. A familiar ache crept across my brow. After all this, still no temple. I reached for the door handle.

Wait a minute … maybe the building’s around that bend. Yeah. I tossed the keys into the air, caught them in one hand, and strode up the path.

Link to this post.


Drive-By Childhood

Driving through my lily white neighborhood, I stopped at a red light, behind a delivery van. We were in the go-straight-ahead lane. Beside me, a Smart Car waited to make a right, while an SUV and a rented Lowes pickup bided their time in the left turn lane. The public radio station pledge drive droned from the SUV. It was a notoriously slow light, so several cars pulled to a stop behind mine. On the corner, passenger side, a gas station. Next to that an apartment building in need of a paint job...

Driving through my lily white neighborhood, I stopped at a red light, behind a delivery van. We were in the go-straight-ahead lane. Beside me, a Smart Car waited to make a right, while an SUV and a rented Lowes pickup bided their time in the left turn lane. The public radio station pledge drive droned from the SUV. It was a notoriously slow light, so several cars pulled to a stop behind mine. On the corner, passenger side, a gas station. Next to that an apartment building in need of a paint job and a new roof.

Deep male voices drifted through my open windows. Three young black men were hanging out on the sidewalk, about to cross the street in the middle of traffic. A car going in the opposite direction stopped. Hip-hop drowned out the pledge drive. The young men shouted. They stepped off the curb. Toward my passenger side. I slid my hand toward the buttons on the door, fighting the urge to click the locks and close the windows.

The teenagers strolled right past my paranoid Honda, their laughter high-pitched and goofy, as they leaned into the window of the hip-hop car to hug their buddy.

Thank you, God, I’d resisted the urge to lock my doors, but damn, there was no question—I’d felt the urge.

I used to be a teenager. Oblivious. When I jaywalked, the cars always stopped for me. When my friends and I gossiped in the middle of the street, annoyed adult drivers always went around us. They probably went home and yelled at their own kids. I used to be a teenager. Semi-conscious Monday through Friday. Revived on Saturday night, when Little Stevie Wonder kept us on our feet, and the party spilled into the driveway. Were the grown-ups next door trying to get some sleep?

The light turned green. Freed, traffic sped into the intersection, peeled off right, left, straight-ahead. I worried about those teenagers. Nowadays, annoyed adults might do more than drive past. An irritated driver might wave a gun to teach those children some manners. I wondered if those babies’ parents had given them the talk. What to do if you get stopped by the cops. Hands in full view. Yes sir. No, sir.

I sent a meditation to the boys’ reflection in my rear view mirror. "May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you always make it to the other side of the street."


Happy Joke Day

I need a break from my current book project, essays about my experiences with racism. It's forcing me to excavate layers of shame, hate, and rage buried in my psyche since childhood. I need a break.I need to laugh. Snort. Groan. Guffaw. Giggle.Please humor me (Get it?), while I shake out my brain. Maybe your brain needs shaking out, too.NERDY JOKESYou’ll want to skip the Nerdy section, if you don’t feel like thinking right now.Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar and...

I need a break from my current book project, essays about my experiences with racism. It's forcing me to excavate layers of shame, hate, and rage buried in my psyche since childhood. I need a break.

I need to laugh. Snort. Groan. Guffaw. Giggle.

Please humor me (Get it?), while I shake out my brain. Maybe your brain needs shaking out, too.


NERDY JOKES
You’ll want to skip the Nerdy section, if you don’t feel like thinking right now.


Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar and doesn’t. (I love this joke, because I get it. That makes me feel smart.)

Why didn’t the wave-particle cross the road? Because it was already on both sides. (Ditto)

How can you tell the difference between a chemist and a plumber? Ask them to pronounce the word unionized. (I love this one because I did NOT get it. I had to look it up. Research makes me happy.)

A programmer’s wife asks him to pick up a loaf of bread and, if they have eggs, get a dozen. The programmer comes home with a dozen loaves of bread.

How do mathematicians scold their children? “If I’ve told you N times, I’ve told you N+1 times.”

How many narcissists does it take to change a lightbulb? One. He holds it in place, while the world revolves around him. (Inclusivity Disclaimer: For the purposes of this joke, the narcissist in question is a cisgender male. All other narcissists, please substitute your appropriate pronouns.)


COW JOKES
You’ll want to skip the Cow section if you have any pride. Prepare to groan.


Why did the cow cross the road? To prove she wasn’t a chicken.

Why did the cow jump over the moon? Because the farmer had cold hands. (Admit it. You laughed at this one.)

What did the mother cow say to the baby cow? “It’s pasture bed time.”

Why do cows have hooves? Because they lactose. (I hear you groaning.)

What do you get from pampered cows? Spoiled Milk

(Okay, no more cow jokes. They're bad, very bad. I want you to keep some self-respect.)

 
BAR JOKES
They're classic. Like great literature, they cross all genres.


A cow walks into a bar. Bartender says, “What’ll you have?” The cow says “Mooooooonshine.”

A chicken walks into a bar. Bartender says, “Sorry, we don’t serve chickens. Try the place across the road.”

C, E-flat, and G walk into a bar. Bartender says, “Sorry, we don’t serve minors.”

Bartender says, “We don’t serve time travelers.” A time traveler walks into a bar.

A skeleton walks into a bar and says, "Bring me a beer. And a mop."

A Roman walks into a bar, holds up two fingers, and says “Five beers, please.”

A priest, a rabbi and a witch doctor walk into a bar. Bartenders says, "What is this, some kind of joke?"


A NERDY JOKE ABOUT JOKES
(Do you see how we came full circle? Symmetry makes me happy.) Drum roll, please.


What do you get when you cross a joke with a rhetorical question?


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