Nothing says Valentine’s Day like chocolate. Check out my interview with Deborah Reinhardt, author of Delectable Destinations: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Missouri, on Huffington Post. And the photos? Oh, the photos!Read All Entries
Four years ago today, I was sitting in the audience at Harpo Studios in Chicago, listening to Oprah Winfrey announce, “We’re going to Australia!” Being chosen as one of her Ultimate Viewers was one of the most surreal experiences of my life, one of the most emotional and one for which I will always be truly grateful. [Read more…]
Congratulations to Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, for becoming the youngest self-made woman to join the Forbes World Billionaires list this year.
I feel a special kinship to Sara whose appearance on The Oprah Show so inspired me as my partners and I were developing StyleSubstanceSoul.com. Because of this, we were chosen to accompany Oprah on the trip of a lifetime to Australia as “Ultimate Viewers.” You can read the whole amazing story here.
Using her life savings of $5000 to start her company, Sara literally changed the shape of women’s fashion. Fourteen years later, she joins Oprah – to whom she donated $1 million for her Leadership Academy for Girls in Africa – in the elite group of women making ten figures (figures probably ensconced in Spanx!). She has also taken on her own philanthropic causes, supporting a variety of charities and organizations which empower women through her Sara Blakely Foundation.
I applaud Sara, who continues to be an inspiration to me. I hope to have as great an impact on women as she has, and I hope to one day join her on this list. (Hey, putting it out into the universe is what got me to Australia with Oprah!)
This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.com.
So many of you have asked how we ended up on that Season 25 premiere to begin with, so we thought we should preface our adventure with that story. They say, “it’s the journey, not the destination,” but in this case, both were pretty remarkable. [Read more…]
Last September 9, we were lucky enough to be invited to what we would soon find out was the season premiere of Oprah’s 25th and final season. It was a show that would change our lives, and make us believe that anything is possible. The whole experience is still so surreal, and we are so grateful for every part of it — especially the 299 new friends we made!
We will be reliving our memories today, and you can come along. We wish we could have brought you to Australia — and you, and you, and you, and you ….!
Relive our Ultimate Australian Adventure with us:
Day 1 – Sydney Opera House and the Zoo
Day 2 – Curtis Stone Cooks Us Dinner
Day 4 – Hugging Koalas
Day 5 – Lois Holds Oprah’s Hand
Day 7 – Sailing Regatta with Oprah
I have been watching Oprah since she was on People Are Talking in Baltimore where I grew up. I continued to watch her through the years and watched her evolve.
After my husband passed away, I was sitting on the couch, depressed, watching The Oprah Show, when Nate Berkus came on. He had lost his partner in the tsunami, and was talking to a woman who had lost her son. She told him that she couldn’t move on because every birthday and holiday made her sad. Nate explained that he no longer gave dates any power, but just allowed the memories to come and go. This was a powerful “aha” moment for me, and gave me the courage to move on. I shared this story with a group and I saw tears from a woman who had lost a child and how strongly this resonated with her as well.
Since then, I’ve sold my house, sent my daughter off to college, retired and moved to Florida. I have begun a new chapter in my life just as Oprah is doing the same. I feel, since the trip to Australia, life has changed for me forever as I work to retain all the lessons that Oprah has taught. When I get down, I stop and focus on the present and reflect on how fortunate I am, and how I can serve others. I am so glad to have met the other Ultimate Viewers who feel the same way I do. Thank you all for sharing your inspirational stories.
Our grandchildren will be reading about Oprah in history books. I feel so blessed to have met her in person and fulfill a dream that I never thought would be possible.
Every afternoon, after I came home from school, my mom and I would sit down and watch The Oprah Show. Ever since I was in middle school it became a tradition for us to do this. When I look back on her show, I realize how much I learned from Oprah. She taught me to think on a global level and be knowledgeable about what was going on in the world. I was then inspired to be a more active participant in making changes in the world, no matter how small.
There was one episode in particular that really resonated with me. It was the episode where Oprah presented the program, Challenge Day. The high school I attended often had problems where students felt isolated and felt that they did not belong. Challenge Day was designed to help schools solve these problems. Through the group I co-founded, Teenagers Against Prejudice, my school was able to bring Challenge Day to my high school. In the letter my mom wrote to Oprah, the one that got us invited to a show, she spoke about our tradition as well as my involvement with TAP.
I never imagined that one day I would be a guest in Oprah’s audience, let alone receive such a huge gift from her. I was shocked when my mom told me that we had been invited to attend a taping. I was close to saying that I could not go because I was worried about missing classes! Thankfully we decided to go to the show. It was exciting enough that I was going to a taping, and I NEVER could have guessed that we would get a trip to Australia.
That trip will be one of the most amazing experiences in my life, and I was so glad that I got to share it with my mom. Not only did I have incredible adventures in Australia, but I also met so many special people (like my San Diego “moms” who run this site!). I cannot thank Oprah enough for the trip and, even more importantly, for all the lessons I learned from her.
Julie Lemerond – (Freelance Writer)
“Become More of Yourself”
I first saw these words on a greeting card in The Oprah Store, shortly after receiving the trip of a lifetime to Australia from Ms. Winfrey. I brought the card home with me and promptly placed it on my refrigerator door, where I could be reminded of that message every day. Three months later, 302 of us met in Los Angeles and boarded our Qantas flights to Sydney, absolutely giddy with anticipation.
The beauty of our trip was not in the lavish meals that we ate or the ornate hotel rooms in which we slept. To me, the real beauty of the trip was about the slow swelling of internal knowledge that I am worthy of such beauty, and that I am deserving of nothing less. Because I am alive, the world is available for me to experience whatever I want from it. It was during those 10 days in Australia that I learned the true meaning of those four small words, those six simple syllables, which had been posted on my refrigerator months before.
I saw butterflies everywhere while Down Under. I knew they were a symbol of the transformation I was undergoing. On our last day of the trip, I found a butterfly ring, its wings filled with amber stones, and purchased it as a reminder of the growth and evolution that life is. I wear it daily, never forgetting the power of its symbolism.
Become More of Yourself, Oprah asked. I will, my heart answered.
Rhonda Van Ness Reyes
It’s amazing the power one single woman has over so many people: the power of love, strength, hope, inspiration and influence … the list goes on and on. All of this explains why my dad, Larry Van Ness, has loved Oprah and her show for all these years.
When I heard them say at the end of an Oprah show back in July 2010, “If you are or know an Ultimate Viewer, please write in and tell us your story,” I knew I had to tell them about my Dad, who refers to Oprah as “his other woman” and quotes her all the time. Little did I know that my letter poking fun at his crush on Oprah and asking if they could get him tickets to a show so he could cross that off his bucket list would forever change not only his life but my entire family’s life.
Our ride was about to start and what a crazy ride it was! My dad had the experience of a lifetime, starting with a surprise visit from NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson who brought my Dad a DVD of Oprah inviting “Larry and his barber chair” to come to her show, then going to the season premiere where Oprah gave the whole audience the trip of a lifetime to Australia. Wait, you have to say it like this –Auuuuustraaaaaaallliiiaaaaaa!!!!
I would like to thank Oprah for a trip that was out of this world and something that my family could never have done without her. We were the only family there out of 302 Ultimate Viewers. There were couples, sisters, best friends, but we — as in my dad, stepmom, brother and sister — were the only whole family. How lucky we were!!
Oprah not only brought us together as a family but also gave us friendships that we will have forever. We have such a unique bond with this group of people. Oprah truly has touched so many people in so many different ways.
Thank you, Oprah, for making my dad’s dream come true. If he is going to have another woman in his life, it’s okay as long as it’s Oprah.
Faunlee Van Ness Gooley
My 11 year old son and I watched the final Oprah show together yesterday, which, trust me, has never happened before! He sat through the whole show, never getting up to go do something “better.” He just sat there taking it all in. When the show was over, he grabbed his iTouch and started typing what I assumed was just another email to his buddies. To my surprise, it was an email to Oprah! Yep, he heard her give out her new address and decided he wanted to write her! This is what he wrote…
My grandpa is Larry Van Ness and I just want to thank you for everything you have done for all of the people that you have had on your show. I thank you for letting our family have a great experience not only watching your show, but also surprising my grandpa. You have inspired me to do things to help my community. As I said earlier thank you for everything you have done.
Well, that is it. I just had to share how Oprah has touched another generation, even on her last show!
Being 30, my whole conscious life I have known the name “Oprah.” Babysitters watching The Oprah Show while I played. I spent summers learning about AIDS, racism, what being “gay” means, how to apply make-up — all in the classroom of Oprah, always in the background of my youth. She has been a constant in my life. Sure she has entertained me, enlightened me and educated me but she has done something much greater than that for me, as well (although, really, the aforementioned would have been plenty). Oprah Gale Winfrey showed me that miracles do and can happen every day if you let them.
I was one of the lucky few that got to be in the audience that warm September day when we were told of our trip to Australia. For me, it was life-changing. It came at a time when I was very low — recently laid off, broke, 30 years old and never been out of the country, a young woman so lost and defeated. That trip, her words, and the people I met and still communicate with showed me the beauty of the world again.
That magic can happen for everyone. Your world can change in an instant. I don’t pretend to know God, but Oprah gave me faith. For that, I am so eternally grateful.
Brandii Nicole – (Honey Bii Blogspot)
Oprah taught me how to smile. A smile means that I am confident, determined, and secure. She taught me how to always hold my head up high and face any obstacle.
Oprah also taught me that we all have a purpose in life. When you find that purpose, hold on to it. The purpose will make you a better “you.”
Mary Elizabeth Shah
Oprah entered my life when I most needed her. I lost my mom to lung cancer and was happy for her to be released into the universe. She sacrificed a lot in her life and tried to be the best mom she could be while dealing with schizophrenia and raising three children. As my mom faded in and out of my life dealing with schizophrenia, Oprah was there as a constant with wisdom, love, and guidance through my college years and my adult years. Oprah has helped me to be a better mom, wife, teacher and person in this world. I now listen to life’s lessons and strive each day to make the most out of life.
It was an amazing experience to share the trip to Australia with my sister who also sacrificed a lot in our family as the oldest child. Oprah, over the years, gave me the amazing gift of teaching me how to drop all of my childhood baggage and move on in my life “baggage-free.”
The trip to Australia will always be held close my heart and a reminder that I have the power — and always had the power — to make the dreams in my life come true. I’m living the dream and creating new ones along the way!
I love you, Oprah, and thank you. Blessings to you in the next chapter of your life.
What I will miss most about The Oprah Show are the “aha” moments when I was able to think about something differently or learn from a guest on the show. There was not a show I watched from which I felt like I did not take away something that would have an impact on my life. I shall miss this deeply.
Julene Fleurmond – (Dreamfleur)
How can I say thank you to someone for 25 years of inspiration and encouragement, an unexpected trip to the other side of the world and memories to last a lifetime? Oprah Winfrey has been one of my greatest role models since I was a child, and her example gives me the motivation to rise in perseverance despite life’s circumstances, and the belief that with God anything is possible.
I’ve been watching her show since I was a preteen. Oprah has become a mentor from afar for me growing up and in my own budding career in media and entrepreneurship, inspiring me to start a creative company as a teen and pursue journalism in college. Seeing her, a woman of strength who also came from a background of poverty, encourages me use my talents to overcome and serve to give hope to those who are less fortunate.
As many of her Ultimate Viewers have expressed, I not only watch the show but also hope to be a conduit that continues portraying what the show represents: living with boldness, telling the stories of others and sharing our blessings. Last summer my mother and I went to Haiti (where my mom was born) to visit family there and to serve. I was so impacted by the trip and Oprah’s example of service and philanthropy to continue to find ways to enrich the lives of the children and people of Haiti.
I also feel moved my Oprah to inspire other people, especially young people, to discover their purpose and serve others with their talents, and through the show’s example I’ve created a youth program through which I do motivational speaking, and a network of online inspirational sites for youth and adults that are created to inspire and motivate others to reach for their dreams.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from The Oprah Show is that everyone has a story and a purpose, and that we are all more connected then we may appear. Through every guest Oprah has interviewed, she brings out the nuances and essence of the human spirit. I loved hearing the stories of some of the other Ultimate Viewers in Australia and am grateful to have shared that time with such an amazing group of people, who are so different yet have so much in common.
The one regret I have about the trip is that in my shyness I did not personally tell Oprah how much she has inspired me. Since I was a little girl, I have struggled with shyness and insecurity. I had an “aha” moment at the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge when I discovered that the same boldness with which I faced my deep fear of heights to climb to the top of the bridge is the same courage that could carry me through life. Seeing how free and open Oprah was in person made me realize that fear causes one to be less present and to miss out on the most amazing moments in life.
Oprah Winfrey may be one of the biggest celebrities in the world but, as she always admits, the role that is most meaningful to her is that of teacher. For 25 years, The Oprah Show has been her classroom where she’s taught millions of viewers everything from paying attention to that little voice in their head to experiencing the power of “now.” Along the way, she’s also shown us the importance of wearing the right size bra, checking the shape of our poop and approaching every action with intention.
What’s made Oprah such an amazing and effective teacher is that she doesn’t stand there lecturing – instead, she shows us how things work and introduces us to people who have gone through those experiences. And by letting us see her in some of her own vulnerable moments – without makeup, in her pajamas, doing the “ugly cry” — Oprah has given us a safe haven to ask embarrassing questions and share our most personal hopes, worries and secrets.
When I was selected as one of Oprah’s Ultimate Viewers last September, I felt like Oprah had just taught me another huge lesson – the Law of Attraction really worked! I had been talking about, dreaming about, praying to somehow get to Oprah for years. She was the inspiration for StyleSubstanceSoul.com, and I wanted her to see that, because of her, we were trying to make a difference in the world. I had put that in writing and sent it out into the universe back in 2007 and then put all of that in writing on the Ultimate Viewer application. The fact that it was now actually coming to fruition – and that Amy, Susan and I were GOING TO AUSTRALIA WITH OPRAH! – took my breath away.
That trip was life-changing and I was surprised, when we got back, at the number of people who asked me what Oprah was like in person, whether she was really the same person they saw on TV. Of course she was. She didn’t just talk the talk; she walked the walk. She was exactly who she seemed to be, and many of the lessons she had been teaching us all these years were put into practice and proven over and over again on the trip.
Here are five of them:
After a private tour of the Sydney Opera House, we were treated to a surprise and very intimate performance by legendary soprano Penelope Mills and pianist Simon Kenway. Following a once-in-a-lifetime private beach party with Oprah and Gayle – catered by Curtis Stone, no less – we were invited to the sweetest dessert party ever. Each activity in which we participated included a goodie bag.
Any one of these special events – and, trust me, special takes on a whole new meaning here – would have been enough for us. But not for Oprah. She and her producers dream big in a way none of us could ever imagine, and that’s a skill worth practicing because if you can dream it, you can make it happen.
Step outside your comfort zone
For two thirds of the Ultimate Viewers, this trip halfway around the world marked their first time out of the United States. During this trip, people who were afraid of heights climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. People with fears of the water swam in the Great Barrier Reef.
Because we had Oprah as our safety net, it was easier to try things we had never experienced before. I am not a snorkeler – I get nervous trying to breathe underwater – but I’d be damned if I was going to miss the opportunity to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef.
Putting that mask on and viewing that unparalleled underwater world was something I’ll never forget. I left there with a real sense of pride and accomplishment, as did so many people on that trip. It was transformative to learn that you could do something you had always held yourself back from doing, and I will be forever grateful to Oprah for giving us the chance to learn that firsthand.
Everything’s better when it’s shared
Oprah could have headed Down Under herself but she chose to take 302 people who she knew would appreciate the experience as much as she would. She always says, “Everything’s better when it’s shared,” and she proved that to us on this trip.
I am really not a big group person but this was not just any big group. As Oprah herself said in one of her speeches to us, “Of course it’s a nice group. We didn’t take any assholes on this trip!” Each person was nicer than the next and we would all turn to each other at different times to try to take in the incredible moment together.
Now, almost six months after the trip, we still communicate through a very active Facebook group. I am so thankful for the amazing people in this group because they are the only ones who truly understand the emotions of that trip and the only ones we can share our feelings with, without sounding like we’re boasting in any way. We help each other in whatever ways we can, and we know we are bonded to these people for life.
We’ll be introducing you to some of our fellow Ultimate Viewers over the next week and know you will love and learn from them, too.
Oprah has kept a gratitude journal forever, and she gave us all journals at the beginning of the trip so we could do the same. We could have filled up a dozen of them.
As we traveled around Australia, we were constantly being thanked by the warm, hospitable Aussies for coming so far to visit their country. We genuinely couldn’t understand why they would be thanking us, and we would fall over ourselves trying to explain how grateful we were to them. These encounters often ended with lots of hugging, which, really, could be the answer to world peace.
The most touching display of gratitude, though, was Oprah’s surprise visit to the airport to see us off and thank us for being her Ultimate Viewers. It was such a classy – and unnecessary – thing to do, especially since, once again, we felt that we were the ones who had so much to thank her for. I thought this revealed so much about her as a person.
Anything is possible
This lesson is now indisputable. If you had told me anytime before last September that Amy, Susan and I would be going to Australia with Oprah, I would never have believed you. It was hard enough to believe when we were actually there! And I think all 302 of the Ultimate Viewers would agree.
With Oprah’s final show coming up this week, there’s another lesson that’s also indisputable now: One person can make a difference. Oprah has proven that over and over again.
I mentioned to my husband the other day that no one will ever take Oprah’s place and he said, “No one, but many.” That was a giant “aha” moment for me because I think he’s absolutely right.
Oprah’s influence has been so far-reaching that if every person she’s touched in some way did their own part to make the world a better place, the world really would become a better place.
So, with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, all I can say is, “Thank you, Oprah.” I will miss you in my house at 4:00 every day — although please know you are always welcome to show up!
I will take to heart the lessons you have taught so well and work hard to do you proud. I know we will meet again – maybe for a StyleSubstanceSoul segment on OWN or back in Australia for an Ultimate Viewer reunion? (Hey, I am mastering that Law of Attraction lesson and have to throw it out there!)
Meanwhile, I am stocking up on tissues to watch the finale on Wednesday because I am going to go full-swing into the ugly cry. This I know for sure.