100 (and counting!)

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One hundred of anything is usually noteworthy. Like if you owned 100 cats. Or if you live to be 100 years old. Or if you eat 100 hot dogs in one sitting. It’s kind of a big deal!

Last January I bought Betsy a Fitbit. Wearable technology was becoming more and more en vogue and I thought it would be a fun and useful way for her to manage her fitness goals. Collecting data on her sleep patterns, heart rate, and workouts seemed like a useful exercise.  From the beginning Betsy found it quite motivating! The default setting challenges you to log 10,000 steps each day. Apparently the American Heart Association recommends it for “improving health and decreasing the risk of heart disease” (who knew?). Betsy ended up getting me a Fitbit shortly thereafter so I could join in the fun!

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So true.

The thing about having a Fitbit is that it is oddly motivating. At least for Betsy and me. The Fitbit app even gives you a green star when you hit the targets for steps and for two people who were always motivated by extrinsic rewards, if there is a green star up for grabs – we are going for it! We often find ourselves doing laps around the kitchen table at 10 o’clock at night to get the last 1000 steps before bed. Fitbit gives you badges for bigger milestones like lifetime miles and hitting 20,000 steps in one day. In any case, it does the job. Both of us have been more inclined to be active whether it’s hopping on the treadmill or jumping up and down while we are watching TV at night.

This past July, Betsy started a streak of consecutive days with at least 10,000 steps. It started innocently enough, as she strung together a week of green stars. Then a week turned into two. And then Betsy was passing even bigger milestones: 30 days, two months. On October 26, she did it. The streak reached 100 days. And there’s been no sign of letting up! Currently the streak stands at 149 days.

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The day it all began…July 18

There have been days when the 10,000 steps came easier than others. A trip to the park with Lucas including walking there and back home plus all the running around and the ups and downs on the play structure make it pretty easy to hit 10,000 steps. On days when Betsy tutors for 6 hours, it can be really challenging! It’s a testament to her determination that she’s managed to keep the streak going for essentially the last 5 months.

The funny thing is, I had started a streak of my own, three days before Betsy’s current streak began. It flamed out after 18 days. I also had a streak of 47 days going during the months of August and September. Then one night just 87 steps away from the 10,000 target, I fell asleep on the couch at approximately 11:47 PM. I was highly exasperated when I woke up at 12:16 AM and realized what I had done. My current streak is 25 days. If you’ve ever tried it, you know it’s difficult. It’s hard to consistently log those steps. Which makes Betsy’s streak even more remarkable.

After her streak had reached a certain point, Betsy decided that she wasn’t going to break it until she got sick and there was a legitimate reason for her not to be active. A few weeks ago, Betsy came down with a cold. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when she decided that she wasn’t that sick and carried on without missing a day of 10,000 steps! Turns out that light exercise can actually boost the immune system. Or at least that’s what Betsy told me when I suggested she take it easy and forget about the Fitbit for a couple of days. 🙂

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Today’s count…she’s nearly there!

Of course there will come a day when Betsy’s streak comes to an end. But it won’t be today! And it won’t be without an extremely good excuse. Like being eaten by a crocodile. 🙂

 

 

A Health and Exercise Update

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Friday, September 9th was clinic day for me. It had been three months since I’d been in to see my CF doctor. That means that for the past three months, I’ve felt good enough that I didn’t need any visits outside of my routine check ups. I really like my doctor and I’m pretty sure he likes me too, but we were seeing way too much of each other over the winter months.

I didn’t feel too nervous leading up to the appointment, not until right before my breathing test. Then sure enough, I felt my heart rate start to rise. There are just so many nerves when it comes to that test. I have felt healthy and strong all summer which is the most important thing, but you just never know what that FEV1 number will be. It’s hard not to be anxious.

In the end I scored a 39%. It would have been great to see a big jump since I’m feeling far stronger and healthier than I did three months ago when I scored 38%, but I’ve been through this enough times to moderate my expectations. It didn’t go down so we’ll call it a success!

Everything else checked out great–my heart rate returned to normal after the test, my oxygen saturation was good, my lungs sounded clear, and my blood pressure was normal. All good signs of health. My doctor was very pleased with how I was doing and was especially happy to hear about my exercise tolerance which he reminded me (again) was just as if not more important than what my FEV1 says. He also brought to my attention that in spite of several illnesses over the winter, my FEV1 stayed stable during and after the illness and didn’t dip like it did with my struggles in the winter of 2015. Stability is a wonderful, wonderful thing when you struggle with a chronic and progressive disease like CF. I am so grateful.

Which brings me to my next update–Operation Lace Up! A few months ago I wrote that I had achieved my goal of running two miles without stopping but I intended to work on diminishing the amount of time it takes me to get through those two miles. At the time I was running them in about 26.5 minutes.  Well…I’m still running them in about 26.5 minutes. I did start working on reducing my speed as planned, but I found that when I pushed myself even a little bit harder, I was getting over tired and not having energy for the other things I wanted to do. I took a step back and reevaluated my goal. I decided to continue to run two miles three times per week at the slower pace and to shoot for increasing my overall level of activity by getting 10,000 steps or more every day (which my Fitbit measures), workout days included. The summer is a great time to be active, and specifically this summer, I had a lot of work I wanted to do on the exterior of the house after being bitten by the Clean Window Perspective bug. I had areas in the yard I wanted to spruce up and Jaime and I decided this was the summer to paint our house.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that yard work and painting are physically challenging to someone with reduced lung function, but I love doing these types of jobs! The sides of our house and the perimeter in the back were overgrown with weeds, so I set out to clear the weeds and move rocks from the back to the sides where they could be more useful for weed management. I’m not done yet, but things are shaping up nicely.  Here are a few photos…

 

You maybe wondering what Lucas was up to while I was doing all this work. As you can see, he helped us paint (for a few minutes) but it took some creativity to keep him occupied most of the time. I put up a tent which I filled with books for him, turned on the sprinkler, even filled a snow sled with water. (Think portable bathtub).

Working outdoors (and going back indoors a hundred times to get the other book or bath toy that Lucas wanted) really racked up those steps! So far I have been successful with my goal and am on a 75-day streak of getting 10,000 steps or more. I feel like this increased level of daily activity has improved my energy and stamina which I’m very happy about. Fall is here now and winter is coming, so I’m sure it will be more difficult to keep it up from here on out. But I’m up for the challenge 🙂

Lace Up Fail & Moving On

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Welp. It’s time for an update, and it’s not exactly the one I was hoping to give you four weeks after I planned to re-instituting Operation Lace Up. Unfortunately, just a few days after my last exercise post, I entered the dreaded adjustment phase and this time it was lengthy and difficult. I spent two weeks feeling awful, and a third recovering from feeling awful. Forget working out, I was just trying to get through each day in one piece. I would cough incessantly for several hours upon waking and experience coughing fits on and off throughout the day. The first week I was chilled unless I took a fever-reducer. I was exhausted, sore and short of breath most of the time. My body felt battered and my emotions were pretty beat-up too.

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This sums up how I felt those three weeks (and it made me laugh!).

Thankfully my health started to turn around physically and emotionally and I was feeling more human last Friday when I headed to the doctor for a routine visit. Even though things were better, I had no idea what to expect after the difficulties of the prior weeks. I was hoping my lung function would be stable and the doctor would have some answers for me about why I keep having so much trouble maintaining the benefits of antibiotic therapy once I’m off.

The good news is that my lung function was stable at 38%. It was a relief to see that number given how ill I had felt the weeks prior. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it were far worse than that. Even through all the sicknesses of this winter, my lung function remained around that 38% which is good since last year it dipped to 32%. The bad news is my doctor didn’t have any explanation as to why I keep having these adjustment periods after treatment. He said my symptoms are not considered common or normal even for CF, at least not to the extent that I’m experiencing them. It was discouraging not to have an answer or even a theory, but that is often what life is like with a disease like cystic fibrosis. Sometimes there are no plausible explanations for why things happen (or don’t happen). There’s not much to do but shrug your shoulders and move on.

Moving on means that now that I’m feeling better, it’s time to get back to that exercise! My doctor warned me that it’s going to be mighty difficult at the beginning given what my body has been through these last months. He told me not to get discouraged and to take it slowly. So I’ve decided to do the modified Couch to 5K again, starting next week.  I know that sounds like procrastination, but this week I’m walking on top of increasing my activity level with Lucas in an effort to ease into this. It’s been nice having the energy to be more active with Lucas again, and although unconventional, it’s still great exercise for me. We’ve been ambling around our neighborhood, visiting our local petting farm, playing with friends, and working together in the yard. Spending time with my boy and basking in the great weather we’ve been having is surely medicine for my body and soul.

Conventional exercise will be good medicine for me too, and once I start the Couch to 5K program next week, I should be able to jog two miles without stopping at the end of six weeks.  That’s my revised goal. I’m hoping and praying that regular exercise, good sleep, stability in my health, and some warm, virus-free months will get my lung function headed in the right direction. While I am grateful for that 38%, I don’t want that to be my new baseline.

I headed out for a walk the other day, and what song should pop up in the shuffle but the song Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. You know, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down…” It made me smile because Jaime loaded that song on my iPod years ago as a joke when I was nervously restarting exercise after being leveled by an emergency operation. Never mind that the song is about falling over because you’ve had too much to drink, the refrain fits! Hearing it the other day was a good reminder that I’ve been in similar situations before, knocked down as it were by this disease. And God has always given me the strength to get up again and keep going. It’s going to be hard, but it’s time to dust myself off and move on.

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door

If you want to change your direction
If your time of life is at hand
Well don’t be the rule, be the exception
A good way to start is to stand.

(Who can name that song??) 🙂

Try, Try, Try, Try, Try it Again

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Well, it’s that time again!  I’m off my latest round of antibiotics, feeling mostly better, and I am ready to start working on my fitness.  Did I say ready? Perhaps that’s a stretch. It’s more like I’m to the point where I have no valid excuses to further avoid it. Welcome back Operation Lace Up.

I started testing the waters about a week ago to see where I was at strength-wise. The first day I told myself I’d only go one mile, and alternated walking and jogging every quarter-mile.  That went pretty well. I was able to walk at a 15-minute mile pace and jog at a 12.5-minute mile pace. The next day the sorest part of my body was actually my arms because a few times I leaned pretty heavily on the treadmill handles.  I’m pretty sure that’s cheating but sometimes I have to do it to get through a run!

Later that week I was able to use the same alternating pace to walk/run 1.5 miles.  Then yesterday evening I headed outside for a jog. Mentally, running outside is easier for me. There’s pleasant things to look at and the time passes much more quickly. There are a few challenges, however, such as airborne allergens, hills, and having to talk to people as you pass them. I’m sure it sounds rude to categorize that as a problem, but when your lung function is somewhere around 40%, you don’t have extra breath for conversation during exercise. Sorry neighbors!

When I began, I figured I would try to run a bit longer than the quarter-mile, maybe up to a half-mile. I started to feel stubborn once I got going, however, and decided just to run the whole thing. I managed to get through, but it wasn’t pretty. It felt awful, but I got through the 1.5 miles at a 14-minute mile pace. I should have been proud of myself, but honestly, I was a little upset initially.  It was so hard, and having just come off antibiotics, my lungs are less congested than usual. I was hoping it would feel better than it did. But then I realized I have plenty of things to be happy about.

First, I’m not all the way back to square one in spite of multiple setbacks this winter. After my first bad illness last winter the best I could do at first was walk at 17-minute mile pace.  I’m glad I’m not there. I don’t even think I’m going to need the Couch to 5K program this year. I’ll just build on that 1.5 mile run, slow though it was. Second, I have a new pair of shoes. And I got them for free!  I’m part of a Facebook exercise group for CF women and there I heard about a program through the Rock CF Foundation called Rock CF Kicks Back, where you can apply for a free pair of running shoes to get you started with exercise.  I applied and they sent me an awesome pair of shoes! Thanks guys!

Third, I have my Fitbit this year and that’s motivating. It’ll be fun to see how many miles and steps I can rack up this summer. And fourth, I won’t be doing it alone since Jaime is reinstituting his One for One pledge.  It’s always easier when you’re doing something unpleasant together 😉 Lastly, as I was brooding over my difficult run, I remembered an incident that happened just a few weeks ago. We had just bought Lucas a little orange balance bike. He was so excited!

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Pleased as punch.

One afternoon, I went on a walk with him so he could practice riding it. He’s not generally super persistent when something is challenging, but he’s been trying really hard with this bike. As he was pushing himself along the other day, trying to get the hang of it, he started singing. The songs were from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood which has been a recent favorite cartoon. First he sang, “If something seems hard to do, try it a little bit at a time. Try, try, try, try, try it again…keep trying you’ll get better! Try, try try.” Then he transitioned into, “It helps to say what you’re feeling.”

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Singing his little heart out.

It was adorable, and encouraging to see him applying those lessons to his situation. It’s what I need to do too, keep trying and remember that it will get better, even though it feels impossible at the beginning. How am I feeling? A little frustrated, but I don’t need to be back to my optimal fitness level tomorrow.  This is hard to do, but I can do it a little bit at a time. Thanks for the helpful reminders, Lucas.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress!  Maybe by my birthday at the end of June, I’ll be back to running two miles in 25 minutes. That’s my current goal, but it’s subject to modification depending on how things go.

Well, I’m off to lace up my new shoes. I can do this! It’s going to get easier 🙂

Twenty Years

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Jaime and I started dating when we were spring chickens…just 17 years old. The first week in January we celebrated our 20 year anniversary. It’s been 20 years since he worked up the courage to tell me he’d like to hang around with me a little more because he thought I was pretty special.

Twenty years makes me feel ancient!  To ease the pain of aging and to commemorate this grand occasion, Jaime surprised me with a card and a gift.  There were two parts to the gift–first, he made me a CD with songs and included a key as to why he picked those songs. Some of them were selections from 20 years ago. Others were ones we’ve heard together just recently. They all have some meaning for our relationship. My favorite song on the CD is “I’d Pick you Every Time” by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.  In the explanation, Jaime said that given the chance to chose me again, he would, and it would be the easiest decision ever. That’s high praise and comforting to hear since my health issues have made life difficult for Jaime on many occasions. I’m glad (and relieved) that he doesn’t regret choosing me!

The next part of the gift was something to help me in my health and exercise goals, a Fitbit! I never realized how much I needed a Fitbit until I got one 🙂  A Fitbit is a fitness tracking device.  My particular model (the Charge HR) tracks how many steps I take in a day, how many miles I walk, how many flights of stairs I climb, how many calories I burn, and how many minutes I’m active in day.  It also records exercise, monitors my heart rate, calculates resting heart rate and let’s me know how long I’ve slept each night and what my sleep quality was like. The sleep quality report is done by tracking restless movement, times I awake in the night, and deducting those minutes from my overall time asleep. It comes with preset goals in all these areas, and you can customize it to be reasonable for your lifestyle. As Lucas would say, it’s super cool.

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My weekly report!

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What my heart was up to that day.

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Exercise record including a map of where I walked.

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A poor (albeit long) night’s sleep when I was sick versus a restful night’s sleep.

Besides all the data (which I love) the best thing about the Fitbit is it has gotten me moving.  I only do intense exercise three days per week as that’s all my time and energy will allow.  But I realized there’s no reason I can’t go for a stroll in the evening while Jaime is putting Lucas to bed, or spend 10 minutes walking on the treadmill even on an “off” day. After a few weeks of doing that, I noticed I was feeling stronger on my exercise days. Exciting!

I’d like to say that grand new heights have been reached, but sadly I got a virus two weeks after getting the Fitbit so I haven’t been able to do as much these past weeks.  When I’m all better, I’m hoping to get back at it and see if the extra movement increases my energy and fitness.  I’m feeling optimistic that it will.

I’ll never be as physically fit as I was 20 years ago when I started my relationship with Jaime, but any improvement would be welcome. Besides, I have it on good authority that he loves me just the way I am.

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Then…

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And now.

 

Taking Heart

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One of the difficult things about living with a chronic condition like cystic fibrosis is that the struggle is never-ending.  It’s not a matter of waiting it out or getting through the next few days. There is no surefire promise that tomorrow will be better. There are bad days, there are better days, but there are no free days.

And so after a difficult year, these past weeks I have found myself in a place of fatigue. I’m not only referring to fatigue in the physical sense, although there has been that too.  The fatigue I’m feeling is a mental weariness that comes from the constant battle and the effort it takes to survive and thrive in spite of the relentlessness of my physical struggles. There are days when I feel I don’t have any fight left in me.

One way this fatigue has manifested itself these past weeks is in my exercise. Several months ago I reached my goal of running two miles in 25 minutes and since then have been working to maintain that time and distance. I’ve struggled physically these past few weeks as the weather has changed and the winds have blown in allergens that have attacked my system. I tried an inhaled antibiotic which caused my asthma to flare uncomfortably and I’ve wrestled with extra congestion and exhaustion. In spite of these symptoms I’ve kept up my running, modifying my workouts on the days when my lungs refused to admit the extra air I needed for the increased activity.

I headed out for a run the other day.  The conditions were perfect. It was sunny, the air was clear and mild, and the fall colors formed a kind of rainbow against the brilliant blue sky. All this beauty I was observing with my eyes as I started my run. But my heart was heavy and remained closed to the splendor around me. All I could focus on was my labored breaths, the strain I felt as my body rebelled against what I was asking it to do. It took me less than two minutes to give up. I knew I should continue on. I knew I should push through. I knew I should persevere. The physical struggle was nothing new, but I couldn’t find mental strength. I stopped, turned around, and headed for home.

As I walked in the door I was greeted by a message from Jaime wishing me luck on my run and offering support. I stared at his message for a few minutes before sighing deeply, putting the phone down and walking back outside. I made myself start again. Just one mile I told myself. I can do one mile.

The same thing happened my very next run. This time I was on the treadmill. I started coughing and rather than jogging through it as I usually do, I got off the treadmill. This happened three times during the first twelve minutes. The third time I sat on the floor and dissolved into tears. I just couldn’t take hold of the strength I needed. I didn’t want to finish. I didn’t want to triumph. I just wanted to quit. I prayed for strength. I gave myself a pep talk. I told myself I could do one more mile, this time no stopping. Just one miserable mile.

Even though I was able to run one mile those days, I didn’t feel a whole lot of satisfaction. It’s hard when I feel I’ve lost the mental fight. I want so badly to be joyful and give my best on the bad days, not only on the better days. But sometimes I fall short.

A line from that song Shirelles sings keeps popping into my head: “Mama said there’ll be days like this, there’ll be days like this, Mama said.” It’s true.  My mom has told me there’ll be days like this. And weeks like this. Sometimes even months like this. Jesus said it too in John 16:33. He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Some versions say trials and sorrows. It’s not you might have trouble, or if you’re unlucky you will have trials and sorrows, but you will. We all do. Struggle, fatigue, hard days, it’s a part of everyone’s experience. But thankfully that’s not the whole story. First He said, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace in me,” and continued with, “…but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

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Taking heart means receiving courage, or confidence, or comfort from some fact. In this case, my courage, confidence, and comfort comes from the fact that Jesus has overcome the world. He has overcome the ultimate battle over sin, death, and disease. I have trouble, but I have peace. Because He has overcome, He gives me the strength to overcome. That doesn’t mean that I will win every battle every time. There will be days when I give up. But because of Jesus there is a surefire promise that a better tomorrow awaits. Whether my healing comes in this life or the next, one day I will again run, uninhibited, free from this struggle, complete and whole again.

There’s a peace I’ve come to know, though my heart and flesh may fail. There’s an anchor for my soul. I can say ‘It is well.’

Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won. He has risen from the dead.

And I will rise, when He calls my name. No more sorrow, no more pain. I will rise, on eagles wings, before my God, fall on my knees, and rise.  And I will rise.

Lyrics from “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin

Never Give In

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Well, she did it.

A couple of months ago Betsy re-initiated her “Operation Lace Up”. Her goal then was to get back to a 12.5 minute mile pace for 2 miles. Ok, that kind of time isn’t going to break any Olympic records but you try running with a progressive lung disease and asthma! Last summer she broke 25 minutes and kept that pace up through the fall and winter until she got sick. But then she was sidelined for about 5 months and had to start from zero.

It’s not the first time that she’s faced a major setback. It probably won’t be the last. In the spring of 2008, Betsy ran a 5K and she killed it. That race was itself the culmination of a long recovery process, following a serious bout with pneumonia and influenza in 2007. Unfortunately, just over a year after that race Betsy was in the ER awaiting emergency surgery; the result of a mysterious abdominal infection. I remember a discussion before Betsy got back on the treadmill for the first time after her operation, wondering aloud if she could do it again.

By now you will, of course, know that Betsy is resilient. And tenacious. But it’s still hard. There’s an annoyingly catchy song from the late 90s, Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. You know, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down”. I remember downloading it on to her iPod just to try and make her smile before that first run but it kind of turned into a rallying cry. In my estimation, she’s had to “get up again” more times than she deserves. But each time she finds the will to do it.

There have been ups and downs this summer. Before her last breathing test she ran two miles in 27.5 minutes and continued to make steady progress. We went to the gym together a couple times while on vacation last month and ran side by side on some very state of the art treadmills. That week alone she shaved 30 seconds off of her time and got under 26 minutes. But with the higher temperatures and humidity that go along with the dog days of summer, she has had some slower runs more recently and some runs that just didn’t feel very good. By Monday though she was edging closer to 25 minutes and was bound and determined to give it one final push today.

I was out running some errands on my lunch break and happened to wander into a Dick’s Sporting Goods. The first display when I walked into the store was a vast selection of Nike women’s running gear:

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Inspiration by Nike.

I’m pretty sure Nike swiped that line from the inimitable Winston Churchill’s famous 1941 speech given at the Harrow School in London.

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

Wise words indeed.

I had just gotten my phone out to text Betsy my great find and to ask what size she wanted when she sent me a message with the following picture attached:

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24:52!!!!!!!!!!!

Apart from the time, she even said that she felt surprisingly good during the run. I was over the moon! She deserved a run like this. I knew she could do it and I couldn’t have been more proud of her. I snatched the tank top off the rack and was heading toward the checkout but Betsy sent a follow up text instructing me NOT to buy it without a coupon. Tenacious and frugal. I love her! 🙂

I would say mission accomplished but knowing Betsy, she will set another goal for herself that will be obliterated in due course. And while I’m hopeful that there won’t be any new setbacks anytime soon, I know that regardless, Betsy won’t ever give in. If she get’s knocked down, she’ll get up again.

You’re never gonna keep her down!

P.S. Sorry if that song is stuck in your head for the rest of the day!