Sundays are Fun Days

It’s been such a hot summer in St. Louis that we haven’t been able to get out and do many of the fun outdoor family activities we are used to. But recently it seems like Mother Nature turned on the air conditioning so we are taking full advantage of the nice weather! We often try to do something fun on Sunday afternoons and one of the activities we love is visiting Eckert’s Farm in Belleville, Illinois.

About 45 minutes from our home, the drive is worth it every time. From blackberries to peaches, apples and pumpkins, we always have so much fun riding the tractor out into the orchards, helping the kids pick the best looking fruit and then laughing when they are quickly covered in sticky, sweet juice from whatever fruit they are tasting. Recently we went for apples but were pleasantly surprised to find that it was also the last weekend to pick peaches — yay, we hit the fruit-picking jackpot!

What is your favorite nice weather activity?


Wanted: Our little “go to” place

Having grown up on the beaches of Lake Superior, my husband and I are used to white, sandy beaches and cool, clear water. Having lived in Mississippi as well, we had the nice sandy beaches but not-so-clear water unless we drove to the Gulf Shores in Alabama or over to Florida.

But, since moving to Missouri, we have yet to find the perfect beach that can be our “go to” place for a fun day in the hot sun, but also serve as a great weekend camping getaway.

This Memorial Day weekend we decided to explore one of Missouri’s many state parks and try to find that special place our family can go back to over and over again. We went online to the Missouri State Parks website and started the search, figuring we’d be willing to do a two hour drive or less.

Wow! So many choices. Eventually we decided on Finger Lakes State Park in Columbia, Mo.

After a quick trip to the grocery store to stock the cooler, we were on our way. From our home west of St. Louis, this park was an easy 1.5 hour ride on I-70W.

Upon arrival we found the state park to be quiet on this holiday weekend, and with the exception of one other family, we had the beach to ourselves.

White, sandy, clean and clear it was not. The beach was rocky in spots, making it really tough on the feet. The water was clear(er) at first but when more families started arriving the water quickly got murky as swimmers kicked up mud from the bottom.

But, our only goal for the day was to bring the girls somewhere that they could have lots of fun, make noise and be kids. THAT was accomplished. The water was refreshing so we ignored the seaweed and mud, and spent most of the day splashing. The girls made friends with some older kids who taught them how to catch tiny frogs and they thought that was fantastic! And the sand was perfect for digging and building castles with moats for the frogs to “live” in.

When it was time to leave, our youngest was asleep as soon as she got in the car so we took a few minutes to drive through the campground.

With several sites for both tents and campers, the campground seems to be perfect for the many motorcross enthusiasts who visit the park for its miles of trails but it didn’t seem to be “the” spot where we’d want to set up camp.

So, even though we had lots of fun and all left exhausted with smiles on our faces, we are still in search of our special little getaway place.

Our wish list:

  • campground with large wooded spots for tents;
  • easy access to a clean lake or river with swimming areas shallow enough for our girls to frolic;
  • within 2 hours of St. Louis.

Where is your favorite place to get away to? Do you know of a great place in Missouri…a campground or state park that fits our wish list? If so, please let me know! We plan to explore all summer long so recommendations are greatly appreciated.

Blogging for a Cause: St. Louis Food Rescue

This week is National Volunteer Week and throughout this week, Julia Carcamo from Casinos, Brands and More, and I, have been Blogging For A Cause, writing about charitable causes that are near and dear to us. This is the fifth and final post of the series.

Hey, Hey #PumpkinNation, how are you doing? Well, I guess we are a little out of season for #PumpkinNation, but for this blog post we’re going to spotlight the young mind behind that campaign who is also the founder of St. Louis Food Rescue.

High school junior Nate Noss started St. Louis Food Rescue in August 2010. Each week he hops into his little Prius, rounds up donations from retailers such as Whole Foods, Costco, Einstein Brothers and Donut Palace, and then delivers the food to three local homeless shelters.

Each weekend St. Louis Food Rescue saves over 5,000lbs of produce, baked goods and dairy products that would have been discarded at the end of the day and deliver it to various organizations such as The Salvation Army Church and Community Center,  The Salvation Army Family Haven – A Community in Partnership, and The New Life Evangelistic Center for the Homeless.

We first met Nate last fall when our CEO asked Julia & I to provide her son’s friend with a little social media assistance. You see, Nate is a teen with a heart of gold (obviously, I mean he started a non-profit when he was 15). Anyway, his big heart and big ideas got him in a bit of a pinch when he decided he was going to use leftover pumpkin patch pumpkins to feed the homeless. Next thing you know, he had 1,200 pumpkins in his parents’ garage. We, along with several colleagues in St. Louis and another in Boonville, Mo., immediately jumped in to help and #PumpkinNation was born. While Nate was so thankful for our help, we were equally thankful to have been able to help the amazing young man. He is going to go so far in life, and well, we’ll always have pumpkins!

In January 2012, Nate was awarded the Outstanding Young Alumni Award by The Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership program.  The nation’s foremost youth leadership program gives this award out annually to one of its alumni who have made a significant difference in their communities, ages 16-25. There were over 100,000 people eligible to apply for this year’s award — and Nate won! Nate represented his high school at the HOBY Missouri seminar, and went on to represent Missouri at the World Leadership Congress.

And as much as Nate is doing for St. Louis Food Rescue, he can’t do it alone. The organization needs volunteers, donations and sponsors to keep helping the local homeless population. To make a donation or volunteer, contact Nate, he’d be happy to hear from you!

Blogging for a Cause: HavenHouse St. Louis

This week is National Volunteer Week and throughout this week, Julia Carcamo from Casinos, Brands and More, and I, will be Blogging For A Cause, writing about charitable causes that are near and dear to us. This is the fourth post of the series and was written by our special guest blogger, Virginia McDowell.

Last week, I lost a brilliant colleague and very dear friend to a valiant battle with cancer.  As a cancer survivor myself, I know how difficult it can be to not only to deal with the physical impact of the disease and the side effects of the various treatment options, but the mental impact as well.  While we are told by friends, family and medical professionals of the importance of focusing all our energy on getting well, the simple truth is that life goes on.  Bills need to be paid, meals have to be made, and just the arduous process of getting to and from a seemingly endless schedule of doctor’s appointments is a daunting task.  It is for this reason that I thought of HavenHouse many times in my friend’s final days.

HavenHouse is aptly named – it is a truly a haven for families traveling to St. Louis for medical care, serving families and patients of all ages. Perched on top of a hill overlooking Olive Boulevard in Creve Coeur, the facility sits in the middle of beautiful, park like surroundings, but is within walking distance of a large selection of shopping, dining and entertainment options.  In addition to private rooms that are lovingly decorated by volunteers who even add such homelike touches as handmade quilts, HavenHouse also provides meals prepared with love by Miss Georgia; shuttle transportation to all St. Louis hospitals and critical support services from a staff that includes professional social workers.  From the complimentary long distance phone service and internet access to the community washers and dryers and gym, HavenHouse is truly a home away from home.

Why is this important?  Because it gives patients the ability to focus on their treatment in calm surroundings, knowing that they are at a place where the staff will always go the extra mile to help them. To be told that you or a member of your family has a serious disease that requires immediate treatment by specialists is devastating. To be told that the necessary treatment is hundreds of miles away in an unfamiliar city just adds to the stress, as does the cost of long stays away from home.

As a Board member of HavenHouse, I have come to know many of the families who have stayed there, and heard their stories, both of heartbreak and triumph. But they all say the same thing – to be able to stay in the safe embrace of HavenHouse, to eat the scrumptious fresh meals prepared with love, to know that you always have a ride home after a long day of chemotherapy, and to be welcomed back with a warm smile for an average cost of $35 per night, HavenHouse gave them hope that all would be well.

We are always looking for new volunteers and donors, and I would encourage everybody to visit our website at or call us at (314) 434-5858 to schedule a visit.

Blogging for a Cause: The Inspiration of a Lifetime

This week is National Volunteer Week and throughout this week, Julia Carcamo from Casinos, Brands and More, and I, will be Blogging For A Cause, writing about charitable causes that are near and dear to us. This is the third post of the series and was written by Julia.

As children, we’re exposed to many good and bad things. As parents, you hope that all those exposures combine to create a decent adult that will carry on your name. Elissa Plastino and I both participate in Great Strides to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Foundation. We do this, not just because it is a good cause, but because of the inspiration of another co-worker, Mike Hart (one of those decent adults). Mike, in turn, was inspired at a very young age by his childhood friend Jill Roberts, or as he likes to refer to her “the Amazing Jill Roberts”…and amazing she is.

The average life expectancy of a CF patient is currently 37 years.  Jill, through dedication to her treatments and overall healthy life style, has done amazing things that a lot of us probably could not do.  Jill continues to participate in stair climbs and run 5K races…amazing feats as there was a time in college that Jill could not walk (while carrying an oxygen tank, by the way) from the car to her classrooms without stopping. One reason this is possible is that 14 years ago this past Thanksgiving, Jill received a most precious gift–the gift of life.  She received a perfect pair of lungs from an anonymous donor. As a result, she continues to inspire Mike and the people in Mike’s life. Jill’s dedication to just survive and take that next breath is what makes Mike step back and reflect on his life and say if Jill could beat the odds that she has been dealt (she was not expected to live to see elementary school), he can do what he can to help find the cure for this devastating disease. And so can we.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States (70,000 worldwide). A defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that:

  • clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections; and
  • obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food.

In the 1950s, few children with cystic fibrosis lived to attend elementary school. Today, advances in research and medical treatments have further enhanced and extended life for children and adults with CF. Many people (like Jill) with the disease can now expect to live into their 30s, 40s and beyond.

 It is a very exciting time to be involved with CF.  Why?  Just this year the Foundation and Vertex pharmaceuticals had a major breakthrough on a drug now named Kalydeco that will help correct the underlying defect that causes CF for about 4% of the population.  While this is not a cure and will have to be taken daily as a maintenance drug, the Foundation now has the road map on how to work on the underlying defect and can start to “cure” a bigger population. This development is HUGE for the Foundation.

So, what can you do? Coincidentally, it’s Great Strides time again for us in Missouri, and in many places across the country. If your company has a team walking, join them by walking alongside them or donating. Individual walkers are also welcome! Elissa just finished a great walk in Cape Girardeau, MO, and I’ll be taking steps to help in a few weeks in St. Louis.

 St. Louis Walk-Carondelet Park, Boathouse May 5, 2012

St. Peters Walk-Laurel Park May 19, 2012

Find a walker/team 

Spread the word

Blogging for a Cause: For Sarah, Connecting Women to Success

This week is National Volunteer Week and throughout this week, Julia Carcamo from Casinos, Brands and More, and I, will be Blogging For A Cause, writing about charitable causes that are near and dear to us. This is the second post of the series and was written by Julia.

When I saw the Blogging for a Cause idea, I expected to have some fun and share some of the reasons we try to help other, but what I’ve realized is that it’s been quite a soul-searching experience.

Monday’s post, Relay for Life, took on greater meaning when our good friend passed away. It took me two days before I was brave enough to read Elissa’s words. Today’s post reminds me of how easily things can slip away.

I met a young lady by the name of Sarah Wayson in 2005. She was just out of college and starting a new and exhilarating job at Wynn Las Vegas – at the time THE place to work in Las Vegas. Coupled with the high-profile our jobs had, it could very well be a slippery slope. Over the years that followed Sarah grew to be a very strong, independent and confident woman. She struggled and made it through in a way that surprised even her. Tragically, her life was cut short, and something about that spurred me to find a way to help women who were in some way struggling for that strength and confidence Sarah found.

Connections To Success was that way for me. “Connections” was started by a remarkable woman by the name of Kathy Lambert who first started helping women by helping them find the appropriate interview attire through Dress for Success…to the point of taking the shoes off of her feet to complete one woman’s outfit. She realized, however, that dressing them was not enough and began to develop additional programs: mentoring, skills training, health & wellness and even developed a program for providing cars. Do you know that even though a woman may find a job that helps her break through the struggle that transportation can still be a basic challenge to success?

Connections is dedicated to helping men and women achieve economic independence. The programs are not a temporary fix. They are intended to promote a life change through a holistic approach. Its family of programs is designed to encourage life-long engagement with all participants.

And, Connections is making a difference:

74% job placement rate for participants that have completed the Connections program versus the 40% national average for offenders in the first year of release

The recidivism rate drops to 14% for Connections participants versus the 44% national average in the first year of release

The average wage of participants engaged in the Pathways to Success program is $10.60/hour

Employment retention for Connections participants is currently 71%

Connections program participants earn 86% higher wages within six months of landing employment than those not in the program

58% fewer are on Medicaid

87% fewer live in shelters or other temporary housing

How can you help? Volunteer. Donate work-appropriate clothing. Donate cars. Donate cash. Become a mentor. Gather some family, friends or co-workers and take The Power Walk for Dress for Success this coming May 12.

Blogging for a Cause: This is why I Relay.

This week is National Volunteer Week and throughout this week, Julia Carcamo from Casinos, Brands and More, and I, will be Blogging For A Cause, writing about charitable causes that are near and dear to us. This is the first post of the series.

There is nothing you could ever do or say that will take away the pain someone feels when they lose a loved one to cancer. But, through the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, you can help raise money so that through research, a cure can be found and fewer families can be spared that same grief.

Today is Friday, April 13, 2012. As I write this blog post I do so with a very heavy heart for tonight we were told that we lost a brilliant colleague and dear friend to this horrible disease. Tonight, a wife lost her husband and best friend. Tonight, a daughter lost her daddy only weeks before she was to graduate high school. He won’t be there to walk her down the aisle at her wedding or hold her first born child. My hope is that she truly understands how proud he was of his little girl, always grinning from ear to ear when he spoke of her.

For the past seven years or so I have been involved with Relay For Life in a variety of ways. I’ve been event chairperson, marketing/PR chairperson, and for the past two years, team captain of our corporate team.

Through those years I have worked to educate people by answering the question: What is Relay For Life? Simply put, Relay is a time for communities to Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.

We celebrate survivors who have fought this disease and won.  We remember those who we loved but lost. And we fight back against a disease that impacts too many people too often.

An overnight event, Relays allows teams to walk through the night, from dusk to dawn, and symbolizes that cancer never sleeps. Families, survivors, friends and others in the community share memories and a commitment to find a cure.

Money raised through this event goes to support a variety of programs and services offered by the American Cancer Society such as Hope Lodge, Road to Recovery, Look Good…Feel Better, and Reach to Recovery. It also funds college scholarships for teens with a history of cancer.

In 2012, it is estimated that more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed; and more than 577,000 deaths from cancer will occur. That is just in this one year alone.

Last year I introduced our friend, colleague and newly-diagnosed cancer patient to Relay For Life. He LOVED the event and walked with us wearing his purple “survivor” t-shirt. This year he will be there in spirit when we walk in his memory. We will work extra hard to raise money so that other families don’t have to feel the pain that his is right now. We will keep fighting the fight knowing that is what he would want us to do.

For more information on Relay For Life, start your own team or make a donation, please visit

If you’d like to donate directly to my team, the Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. Community Aces, you can do so here.


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