Staying Occupied When Energy Levels are Low

Treatments that we undergo for our lung cancer can really zap our energy. Someone recently posted a question on a forum on which I participate asking what kinds of things people do to occupy their time when they don’t have much energy. It was a popular question and there were lots of great responses. Below are some ideas that you might find useful.

Paint or color

Several people mentioned painting or coloring. Neither activity takes an inordinate amount of energy, but they are calming and enjoyable. One person is teaching herself to paint watching YouTube videos (is there anything you can’t learn on YouTube?). I personally bought some books.


In the middle of difficulty, lies Opportunity


You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”

Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” I believe that. Do you?

The fact is that while I would never choose to have cancer, it has presented many opportunities for which I am very grateful. Isn’t that something?

My motto has been and continues to be, “I have cancer, Cancer doesn’t have me.” What’s that mean?, you ask. Well, it means that I try hard not to be defined by cancer. I try to live my life to the fullest.

In fact, in my way of thinking, every moment I spend worrying or fretting over having cancer is a moment where cancer wins this battle. It robs me of my joy for that length of time. I don’t know how much time I have left here on this earth (none of us do). But, what I know is that I want to make the most of every moment that I’m here!

Cancer has allowed me the opportunity to finally concentrate on me, not on everyone else around me. I always worked a job or two and put 110% of myself into it. With family obligations taking up the remaining hours in the day, there was just never really any time left over for Donna.

But, having cancer allowed me to quit working. What a blessing that was, especially since my job had gone from good to very, very bad with changing regimes. Politics. Aren’t they great? (NO!!!) For the first time in my adult life, I have had the time to do things that make me happy. And I have enjoyed that to the max!!!

You probably have already figured out what those things are that make me happy.

I’ll just state right at the beginning, my joy comes from the Lord. He is the reason for my happiness. He is the reason I do not worry about dying or about having cancer. He is the reason I can enjoy all of the activities listed below. Without the peace I have from Him, none of the rest of this would be possible.



I love, love, love agility. I found this sport late in life. I had really only just gotten started in it when I found out I had cancer. Barney and I were trialing nearly every weekend and sometimes Cotton came along! (She got to come along more often then than now … the one bad thing about this retirement stuff is that my income decreased by two-thirds. I have to be much more frugal than I used to be … talk about a hard lesson!!)

Barney was then and is now a superb agility partner. That little dog has a huge heart. He will play with me, over and over and over again, until I can’t go any longer. He tries so hard to please. Always, his goal is to make me happy. Because if mama is happy, everyone is happy! Seriously, he loves agility, but mostly he loves me and he wants to do what pleases me.

I was initially taught that running agility meant running alongside your dog, directing him or her to do whatever the next obstacle in the sequence was. Many venues require that you stay fairly close by your dog in order to direct him over the obstacles correctly. My venue of choice, NADAC, is a little different. It allows you to work away from your dog.

Running your dog with distance between you and him is a completely different way of handling. My personal belief is that it is more difficult to teach your dog to run without you right beside him. It is especially challenging when the dog has first been taught to work right beside you.

Barney and I are in the process of learning to work at a distance from one another. I practiced my new skills some at the Run As One trial over the Memorial Day weekend. The video above shows our runs from Sunday of the three day trial.

Practicing our newly learned skills at distance (we are still very new in the learning process) is only part of what made me smile at the Memorial Day trial. The other is that I had the stamina to go help set-up for the trial on Friday, run four runs on Saturday, return Sunday morning for three more runs, finish with three runs on Monday … and stay to help tear down and load up all of the equipment. Previously, I had only tried to trial one day for fear of being too tired the following day. REmarkABLE!!! I am so blessed.


I wish I had a dollar for every time Robert suggested I start a garden. I always refused. I was just not interested. Then, this spring, I changed my mind. I don’t even know why I decided this was the year I wanted to plant tomatoes and cucumbers and squash and zucchini. We have watermelon and cantaloupe and bell peppers. And okra. And something that I no longer remember what it is!!! I can’t wait for its fruit or vegetable to appear so I will know just what it is!!

I know nothing about gardening. Like a bull in a china cabinet, my typical way of doing things, I just started buying plants and putting them out in the ground. I STILL know nothing, but I am fortunate that my plants seem not to care all that much.

Here are some pictures I took this morning. I go out and look every single day. I take pictures at least a couple of times a week. Sometimes more often! The little fruits and vegetables are like my babies! I love watching them … except for an impatient person like myself, it is also a bit of a challenge!

Now that the sun has begun shining again, the ‘maters are ripening!


The herb garden. Yum!!!


Zucchini? Squash? Cucumbers? All of the above?


Squash … some will be ready for picking very soon!
More tomatoes that will soon be ripe enough to pick and eat!


Yellow zucchini. The plant thrived while it rained daily. Not looking so good now.


The bell pepper!!! It will ultimately be a red pepper. There’s only one on the bush!


Watermelon. This plant has not always looked as healthy.
My Meyer Lemon Tree. What fun!


Baby lemons!!

I am learning as I go. Next year, I hope I learn from some of my mistakes. I crowded things this year. They looked so small and so widely spaced when I first planted them. Do I hear you laughing???? If you have done much gardening, I am sure you are!

I have been reading that you should plant certain plants with one another … and shouldn’t combine others. Next year, I hope to have an organized plan! This year, I just walked down the rows at Lowe’s and chose plants that would produce vegetables or fruit that I thought I might want to eat.

I gave away some of the first fruits of my labor. Carol got a bag with squash, zucchini, and a couple of tomatoes. I plucked a little tomato off of the vine yesterday morning as I was walking out of the backyard to the car. I gave that to Linda. I THINK I am going to have plenty to share. I hope so.


I guess it is pretty obvious from my blog that I enjoy photography! Having cancer has opened my eyes to all of the beauty that surrounds us. I love to take my camera and just explore the backyard. I NEED to take my camera and explore a little further away than my backyard!! But, for now, I have been content to wander through the yard and take pictures of dogs, flies, bees, flowers, fruits, and veggies … and an occasional lizard. Hopefully, there will be no opportunities to snap a photo of a snake.

The pictures below were taken this morning. I originally grabbed the camera because I saw the bees inside the flowers of the squash plant. I thought they were certainly worth a few pictures!! As long as I was out there with the camera, I explored a bit more!

I love these delicate little flowers. No clue what they are.


Another little flower that I think is pretty. It is some wildflower that I planted.


This plant and the one below speak to me. This little weed is growing out of the brick wall!


This petunia came from I don’t know where. Like the little flower above, it is growing in a crack in the brick wall. Perseverance. At its best


That frog is lucky it is in the water. Cotton was VERY interested in it!


We have so many of these bugs. I don’t know what they are, but they sure like my new garden.


Flies like the garden too.


I love quotes. I love photography. On occasion, I try to combine the two. These are the bees that initially sent me running for the camera.


Other Interests

My calendar is usually very full. I don’t like to have very many days when I don’t have something to do. Currently, I have agility class twice on Tuesday and once on Friday. I may have to quit going to the Tuesday night class – it is more traditional agility (where you run right beside your dog) and I don’t want to mess up what Barney and I are learning with our distance. We are going to be taking a break from our Friday class as well. It has just gotten too hot. So, for the summer, we will rely on practicing at the park at 7 AM rather than going to class at 10:30.

On days that I don’t have agility, I love to meet my friends for lunch and/or the movies. I rarely ever saw a movie before I retired. But, since I have been retired, I have been lucky enough to go to quite a few.

Walks. Linda and I complain nearly every single morning when we meet about how we didn’t want to come! We meet at 6:30 AM now that it has gotten so hot. We never want to get up. But, once we are at the park and walking, we’re glad we made the effort. The dogs love their walks as well. And, it is so good for us! On days that I don’t walk, I usually just waste the time that I would be spending getting some exercise. And, boy oh boy, do I need exercise!!

You should see my Kindle app. I have so many books on there just waiting on me to read them. I keep buying them for those times when I might not feel like doing the things I am doing now. I hope that day doesn’t come for a long time. But, when it comes, I’m prepared!!!


So back to the title of this post. “In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” Cancer is my difficulty. But, oh the opportunities it has brought with it! If I hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer, I would still be plugging along at a job that I had grown to hate instead of enjoying every waking moment! There’s just never enough time to get everything done that I want to do! Even now! But, now all of the moments are full of things that I love to do.

Hedonistic? I feel like maybe so. But, I also think that I deserve the bliss I am experiencing now. Not because I have cancer, but because I have worked so very hard all of my life. It is wonderful to have the OPPORTUNITY to work hard at having fun instead of at a job.

Farmer Donna

For years, Robert has asked me to have a vegetable garden. Every time he suggested it, I refused to even consider it. I was totally opposed to such an idea. Until this year.

Perhaps it has to do with life. I am living and it is fun to see other things live? Too philosophical? Well, I don’t know why I suddenly decided this year that it would be a great idea to grow some fruits and vegetables, but that’s what I decided.

Meyer Lemon Tree

First, I bought a lemon tree! Yep, a lemon tree. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade and all of that 🙂  Seriously, I love lemons – lemon in water, lemon in shrimp scampi, lemon in cake!!! And, I was jealous when I would see friends with their homegrown lemons in years past, so I just had to buy myself a lemon tree.

This picture is from when I first got the tree when it was full of blooms instead of fruit … I’ll have to get another one day soon. At any rate, the tree is now just full of little fruit and it also has started flowering again. And, if you have never smelled lemon tree blossoms,  you are missing something really special. They smell heavenly. I am excited to see more blossoms! Who knew a tree would try to fruit more than once in a season?

Aren’t the little fruits just as cute as can be? As they get larger and larger, I wonder if the thin little branch will be able to support the weight? Lemons I buy at the store are pretty heavy! That branch is really thin!

The blooms are not only fragrant, they are gorgeous! I could look at these blooms forever. Butterflies like them, too. So far, I can think of lots of reasons why everyone should have a lemon tree (even if you don’t like them, putting them in your disposal will make your house smell good!) and none for why you shouldn’t. Possibly the fact that they are very cold sensitive and will have to be brought into the house in the winter is a negative. Not for me, but maybe for others…

Here in Dallas, we don’t usually get a lot of rain, but let me tell you, this year we have had rain after rain after rain! And some fairly violent weather nearby with hail and tornadoes. I like rain. I do not like hail or tornadoes. Tornadoes scare me and hail just makes me mad. Anyway, I loved the water dripping off of my little lemon here. Isn’t it fascinating that the lemon already has a rough texture like store-bought lemons do? Am I too easily entertained?

I took this picture just to show how the tree has fruit on it and new blooms too. I think that is so cool!

Well, from the lemon tree came the herb garden!

Herb Garden

I don’t really like to cook, but since I took a BIG pay cut when I quit working, I have been trying to do more of it. So, I got the brilliant idea that fresh herbs would be a wonderful idea. I went to a herb garden class at our local nursery where I bought this really neat three-level pot. I fell in love with it!

I bought quite a variety of herbs: parsley (did you know that parsley is really, really good for you?), oregano, chives (garlic and onion), chocolate mint, peppermint, lemon balm (supposed to keep mosquitoes away, but it is not working for me!), rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender and I can’t remember what else. I have the tags and I look at them on occasion to remind myself what herbs I have growing!! It is obvious from the ones I remember I have that I like Italian food! 🙂

If one three-level pot is good, two will be better, right? That’s what I decided. It was buying the second pot that started me on fruit and vegetables. I decided that a tomato plant in the top pot was a great idea. And it was!

I chose a compact patio tomato to plant in the top pot of the planter. The fruit is supposed to be dwarf, between the size of a cherry tomato and a regular tomato. I think you can see that the plant is growing nicely. That is a 12 inch wooden stake next to it, trying to offer it a bit of support.

Here is what that little tomato plant has on it now:

It has had this fruit for a month or two. It isn’t ripening. I don’t know why. If anyone reads this and knows how long it takes for tomatoes to ripen on the vine, please let me know in the comments!!! I am the world’s least patient person so this “farming” is a real test for me!!! I go outside every single day and look at every plant, every single plant! And boy! Do I get excited when I find a surprise!

Fruits and Veggies

Well, it was so much fun to have one tomato plant, that I decided I needed more. I thought we would enjoy the dwarf tomatoes in salad, but I also wanted fruit that could be sliced for hamburgers and sandwiches.

And, yeah, I decided I would also like to have strawberries, even though I am not a big strawberry lover. Don’t ask me why I made some of the decisions I made. I can’t explain it to myself, much less to you!

Robert is good about indulging my “needs,” so off we went to Lowe’s, where we purchased not one, but three new tomato plants and a lovely strawberry plant. (I previously planted strawberry roots … 30 of them. Not a single one ever made into a plant. Again, if anyone has hints on that, I would love to hear them. The roots were guaranteed to grow, but not one did! I obviously did something very, very wrong!)

I also bought a Patio Picker container. I put all four plants (3 tomatoes, one strawberry) in the same 24X20″ container. Yeah, I know, that was a mistake! Those tiny little tomato plants have EXPLODED in size!!!

Well, it probably comes as no surprise that one Patio Picker container and tomatoes would not enough. If we are going to be “farmers,” we need to grow some veggies. Right? Right!

Let’s see. What would be good this summer? Well, I don’t much like watermelon, but I have read it is really, REALLY good for you. Better have some watermelon. And some cantaloupe. Another fruit I don’t like, but everyone else I know does, especially my mom and Robert. Maybe I’ll learn to like it better. Or not.

I like okra and so does Robert. So, let’s get some okra. Zucchini and squash are awesome on the grill or in salads. Better have some of those. And cucumber. Yum! It is another vegetable that is just packed with goodness for you.

Sigh!!! I wish I had a bigger place for stuff because I wouldn’t mind trying some beans, too. But, for now we have all our space can handle. Except that I talked myself into a red bell pepper while I was buying the other plants.

Here are my two Patio Pickers side by side right after they were planted on April 28. As an aside, I am not using the pots the way you are instructed. You are supposed to cover the tops with plastic to keep the plants from being over-watered and to keep water from evaporating so quickly. That seemed like a hassle to me so I just put mulch on top. So far, even with the torrential rains we have had day after day after day, the plants are doing AWESOME.

The picture above show what a couple of weeks can mean!!! Wow! Even I forgot that it had only been a few weeks since I planted my Patio Pickers!!!  Look at the size of the tomato plants now!! One of them is coming out of its wire frame already and another will be in another few days. The third one, a more compact variety, surprised me yesterday. It already has some decent-sized fruit on it!!!

The tomatoes are not the only thing that is exploding in size!!! I was gone last weekend because I was attending the fabulous LUNGevity National HOPE Summit in Washington, DC. I was only gone from Friday afternoon until Sunday night, but I was astonished at how big my vegetables in the Patio Pickers had grown. After another week of growth, they’re even bigger now!

In the Patio Picker above are some yellow zucchini, cantaloupe (I think), red bell pepper, okra, and two plants that don’t have tags on them so I won’t know what they are until they produce!! It’s a mystery until then! Don’t you love it? (And yes! These plants are going to be WAY too crowded. But, I think it might be too late to repot them. Does anyone know?)

Well, until today, I didn’t think any of the vegetable plants were actually producing. But, I was wrong!

Do you see it? My teeny tiny yellow zucchini!!! There are actually three that I can see on the plant so far. They’re small, but they’re there!!! I was as excited as could be when I found them. I have taken pictures of them with my tablet and then again with my better camera! I will probably take pictures of them now every single day until I pick them. Anybody’s guess when that will be! I have no clue!

Some of the other plants in the Patio Picker look like they’ll be producing soon, too. Just for fun, here are a few more pictures I took of the plants in the Patio Picker (should I just call it a PP? … much easier … though some children might laugh if you were reading this out loud).

No clue what this is going to be, but I’m going to have something soon! Hopefully, I will be able to identify it fairly quickly once I can see a vegetable. Or maybe someone reading this knows?

I believe this is the cantaloupe. And, I’m not actually sure if a fruit will appear where I have pictured or not. Time will tell. I am expecting SOMETHING to appear pretty soon, somewhere on the plant!

My baby zucchini again. I can’t wait to watch it grow!

These are going to be red bell peppers. I am really anxious to see they grow too! Well, let’s just be honest! There isn’t a single vegetable or fruit here that I’m not anxious to see grow!

The Planted Garden

Well, when I do something, I usually don’t do it in a small fashion. Whatever hobby I have, I do it with full engagement. That’s not a good thing most of the time. But, it is what it is.

So, I was thinking that I wanted to put some vegetables into the ground. But, our yard is really not set up for a garden. It is three levels. The first level, near the house, is small and very sloped. There is an old pond that has a leaking liner where I could probably toss some dirt … and probably will next year! But otherwise, there really aren’t many places for flowers or gardens, except in containers … and I have the fence lined with those!

The second level is the most plausible level to become home to a garden. We rarely go down there. The dogs run the fence line, barking at people who walk on the nature trail, and Cotton digs lots of landmines there. On rare occasions, I set up some jumps and practice a little agility. But, for the most part, it is underused, even unused. It is currently home to some grass and some weeds. No flowers, except the ones on the weeds. Digging out a garden plot on the second level was a little too industrious for me this year.

The third level of our yard is not fenced and is next to the nature trail. Unless I want to share my vegetables with everybody who walks by, I think the third level is out. Unless we put up some sort of fence with a locking gate… The second level still seems most plausible. Next year.

For this year, the only space I could think of was a weed-ridden little plot next to the swimming pool. It had a tree in it when we moved here, but Robert cut it down right away. Who plants a tree right next to a swimming pool? Hello? Roots under the pool? We didn’t know much about swimming pools when we moved here, but we knew you don’t want tree roots pushing against it or growing up under it.

The little plot has been home to weeds for the entire time we’ve lived here. You can’t see them because the land is two or three feet below where the pool deck is. In other words, in order to get to it, you have to climb down to get to it … and yeah, climb back up when you want to get out of there.

Well, it isn’t the most convenient spot on earth, to be sure, but it is a place where I can have my veggies. There is plenty of sun. Nothing should bother the plants (except maybe bugs).

I spent a couple of hard days digging out the weeds, adding soil conditioners, and sprinkling in fertilizer. I patted myself on the back more than once while I was out there sweating and hurting. I’m a Stage IV lung cancer survivor and I can dig this garden with the best of them! Yeah! And even though I am no spring chicken any more, I can also climb in and out of this space! I have to crawl and then stand up when I get out of it, but that’s beside the point entirely!

Below are pictures of the little garden right after I got it planted and mulched. I’m hoping the mulch will limit the amount of weeding I have to do. And, also, it should help keep the ground moist when it is no longer raining every single solitary day like it is now.

The pipes are either just hanging around down there or are taking the overflow from the pool out to the area between our houses. The pool is saltwater so I hope the water from it doesn’t end up in my garden plot. I don’t think any of the plants will be fans of saltwater. And, as an aside, neither is the metal fence.

When I planted the little garden space, I actually tried to give the vegetables a reasonable amount of space. I think I knew, even as I was planting them, that I was going to be crowding the ones in the Patio Pickers.

Because it is a pain to get up and down out of the space, the plants in the ground do not get nearly as much scrutiny or attention as the ones in the Patio Pickers. Today was the first day in awhile that I have been down in the garden to really take a look at them.

They are not growing as quickly as the ones in the Patio Pickers. But, they ARE growing. Some of the plants were really tiny when I planted them. Below are some pictures I took today:

Well, I guess I didn’t get a picture of the whole garden. I’ll have to go do that. Because it is fun to see how it grows! So far, there is no fruit or vegetables on any of the plants that are in the ground. The fact that the container plants are doing so much better is a great advertisement for Patio Pickers!!!! I should set it up an affiliate link so I can make a commission for bragging on them like I am!! 🙂

I got industrious. I went outside with the tablet to try to get a picture of the garden. I can’t get it all in one photo, so I decided to take a video! So, you get pictures and commentary!

I am really having a lot of fun with this right now! I should have fruits and vegetables to share soon unless something awful happens and kills them all. Since I have no idea what I am doing, anything is possible, but I’m going to hope that all goes well with it and that my biggest problem is going to be getting rid of the produce!

Do any of you garden? Anyone have tips or favorite web sites for me?

Flower of Hope

I never bothered with flowers or anything when I worked – there wasn’t time. I was way too involved in agility and other activities to want to mess with flowers. I liked what other people had, but they were just too much work for me.

But, when I retired, I had more time. A lot more time. I needed something to fill my days with joy so I started filling pots with flowers. And, I found that those flowers brought me great joy. I would get up early and go sit out in the backyard and enjoy the gorgeous flowers and the serenity of it all. I had bird feeders spread around too. I also enjoy watching the birds and butterflies! Not the mosquitoes. I can definitely do without the mosquitoes.

Rosemary, marigolds, and lemon balm are all supposed to dissuade mosquitoes from making a home near you. Doesn’t work. I have tons of rosemary (I love it), pots of marigolds, and a thriving lemon balm and I also have giant-sized, hungry mosquitoes.

But, mosquitoes are not the topic of this posting. My flower of hope is.

The red verbena is my flower of hope. And there is a good reason for that.

Last year, I bought a beautiful hanging basket that had trailing petunias and verbena in it. I loved it, but it was not cooperative with me. It did not thrive like most of my plants do. When I left to go to New Mexico with my son, it gave up the ghost entirely.

I took the pot down and put it aside. It was a pretty pot so I thought I might replant it. I didn’t empty out the dead plants, but the pot was totally ignored. I did not water it or pay attention to it. Until, one day I looked at it, and lo and behold, there was a green plant and there were blooms!

I eventually pulled all of the dead plants out of the pot and started taking care of the little verbena that had come back from the dead. It flourished through the rest of the summer, but stayed pretty small.

Winter came. I took what was now a scrawny little plant with two little stalks of leaves up to the patio and diligently covered it along with other plants I tried to save every time the weather was going to be really cold. It didn’t look good, but it didn’t look dead, either!

When spring arrived, my little verbena was definitely not going to win a contest for most beautiful plant. But, it was alive. Two little stalks of alive! Hope! This feisty plant that refuses to die!

It has survived tremendous odds. It initially came back from the dead, surviving not having water in the hot Texas sun. It isn’t a perennial. It really shouldn’t have made it through the winter.  But it did!

I have a vested interest in keeping it alive now. It is my hope flower. It keeps on keeping on even when the odds are stacked against it. It reminds me of me. And I want to keep it alive and thriving … and I want to stay alive and thriving too!