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Apr
05

Bring on the April showers! I wrote about 10 Stylish Items That’ll Keep You Dry in a Downpour for USA Today 10Best. Bet you’ll especially love the cute boots and the heart-shaped umbrella!

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australia, oprah-style!

Australia

After a friend pointed me to eShores the other day, I got so involved in all the possibilities for future trips that I spent way longer than I should have on the site.

Not surprisingly, I ended up in Australia, reliving my trip Down Under with Oprah and 301 fellow Ultimate Viewers. That was almost five years ago, and I still happily reminisce about it all the time.

You can read all about my Ultimate Australia Adventure, and then, hopefully, plan your own. There are lots of companies that offer tailor-made packages, and I found some great multi-centre itineraries on the eShores site that would enable you to follow our trip — well, minus Oprah, of course. [Read more…]

dreaming of bali

Amarterra bedroom

I took this quiz on my friend’s blog the other day and think I found Michael and my next trip. I’ve been dreaming of it ever since — but, unfortunately, not in a bed like the one above. That’s the one I’m dreaming of.

 

Yes, this seems like a newlywed quiz and, yes, we’ve been married for almost 33 years but we still like to think of every trip as a honeymoon. [Read more…]

oprah told us “we’re going to australia” one year ago today!

Ultimate Australian AdventureLast 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 3 – Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef

Day 4 – Hugging Koalas

Day 5 – Lois Holds Oprah’s Hand

Day 6 – Climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge

Day 7 – Sailing Regatta with Oprah

Day 8 – Star-Studded Taping of The Oprah Show

why i’m walking for the cure by kelly wagner

I met Kelly Wagner at the Oprah season premiere last September and was immediately drawn to her enthusiasm and passion. I was lucky enough to spend time with her in Australia — the girl is a firecracker! When she told me she was going to be walking for breast cancer — and why — I wanted her to share her story to inspire others to do the same or, if possible, make a donation to Kelly’s fundraising efforts. Kelly was one of Oprah’s Ultimate Viewers and she’s obviously an Ultimate Doer. Let’s help her in her fight to put an end to breast cancer.

Kelly WagnerMy name is Kelly, I’m 27 years old, and I hate cancer. I’ve often lived by the statement, “Go Big or Stay Home.” Last September, I was traveling to Chicago from my home in Las Vegas to be part of Oprah Winfrey’s 25th (and final) Season Premiere; this September, I will be traveling 400 miles so that I can walk nearly 40 miles over the course of one weekend, then turning around and traveling 400 miles back home.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like to drive 40 miles, let alone walk it. So, why am I doing this? It’s simple — I’m walking because I care. I’m walking because I can. I’m walking because 41,000 women will lose their battle with breast cancer this year alone, and I happen to know one of them. Trust me when I say that one is too many.

I’m walking because I don’t want one more person I care about to become a breast cancer statistic. I’m walking so that someday a young woman won’t have to face the decision of whether or not to have a preventive mastectomy because breast cancer runs in her family. I’m walking because nearly $700 million has been raised by the Avon Walk to pay for treatment and early detection programs for people who can’t afford medical help. [Read more…]

day 8 of our ultimate australian adventure with oprah, in which we spend a star-studded day at the opera house, susan gets emotional and amy and I go on a shopping spree

This was the day we had all been waiting for – we were going to be VIP guests at the two tapings of The Oprah Show at the Sydney Opera House. For Oprah’s Ultimate Viewers, this really was the ultimate gift.

At 9 a.m. we were off to the first taping. The crowds on the street were as excited as we were, and they were screaming their welcomes to us and we were screaming our thanks right back at them!

With our yellow bracelets wrapped around our wrists, we were ushered to the VIP section – oh, we could so get used to this! – and were awestruck to look around and see 6000 audience members all smiling and laughing and feeling that same sense of gratitude and awe. Some Aussies had told us that it was harder to get tickets for this show than it had been for the Olympics! More than 350,000 people had sent in requests.

Sally Lou Loveman, who we remembered so fondly from that life-changing Chicago show taping back in September, warmed up the audience – which didn’t seem to need much warming up! By the time Oprah came on the stage, we had been whipped into a frenzy!

For those of you who missed the first show, here’s a quick recap: First up was the family of the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin. I had interviewed young Bindi over the phone when her movie, Free Willy 4, was released on DVD, and was so impressed by how charming and articulate she was. In person, she, her little brother and mom set off an emotional torrent that just got more intense when Jay-Z surprised a compassionate boys’ school teacher with a special appearance, and Oprah presented the students with a million dollars worth of laptops and computer equipment.

Russell Crowe visited next, followed by Christian and Rachel Anderson. Christian was battling cancer, and Oprah gave the couple a check for $250,000 so they wouldn’t have to worry about bills and could just spend time together with their two little boys. We were in tears watching the video Christian had made for Rachel.

Next up was Bon Jovi, singing hits “It’s My Life” and “Living on a Prayer.” We were sitting in about the twelfth row so we can assure you that, yes, Jon Bon Jovi is still one of the sexiest men alive. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Oprah ended the show by presenting the entire audience – all 6000 of us – with an exclusive pearl necklace from Kailis engraved with “Oprah The Farewell Season.” We get so many compliments every time we wear it, and it is so meaningful to us because of the incredible memories it represents.

We were emotionally spent – and there was another taping coming up in the afternoon! After lunch in the Opera House (how lucky were we?), Susan went back to the hotel to call her husband and have a good cry (I think I was teary for a good three quarters of the trip but will probably have my breakdown sometime down the road when I come back down to earth), but Amy and I decided to use the couple of hours in between tapings to do some shopping! We found the fantastic Aboriginal Art Galleries at the Sydney Harbour, and spent all our time – and money – there, buying earrings, scarves, journals, artwork, boomerangs … we could go on but, suffice it to say, we spent enough to warrant a tax refund at the airport the next day. It was a good thing we had bought the extra suitcases!

After a quick change, we were back at the Opera House, this time sitting in the fifth row center – hello, Oprah! – and, because this would be the final show, we were ready for anything. We had a great time talking to the two Australian mother-daughter pairs sitting in front of us who had won the ticket lottery and were beyond excited. They had just found out that they had been selected to upgrade their seats to the VIP section, and they were feeling as crazy happy grateful as we all were to be sitting there!

We had to rehearse what would be the grand finale – a gigantic Australian flag unfurling over us while a children’s choir sang “I Still Call Australia Home.” We prepared for the waterworks to flow because we knew this would be a huge emotional moment.

Oprah came out, looking like a queen, and brought out her first guest – Bono! What a thrill! Next, making a grand entrance that would make headlines all over the world, came Hugh Jackman, speeding down a zipline from the top of the Opera House to the stage. Unfortunately, he smashed right into something hard and we got an up-close and personal view of it. Ouch. It was actually really scary and when he turned around, his eye looked awful. He was so gracious, and said it was completely his fault because he got a little overenthusiastic. What a gentleman – and what a cutie! Even the young male paramedic couldn’t resist hugging him when he went onstage to help him!

Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban did their first interview together with Oprah, and they were adorable. Olivia Newton-John was equally adorable – and she’s a shocking 62 years old now! She showed off the black leather pants she made famous in “Grease” – how could those tiny little things have ever fit anyone?!

The road trip ladies – who are as sweet in person as they were on TV – were sitting in the front row, and Oprah presented them with limited edition Australian Colours pink diamond “O” necklaces from Rio Tinto’s Argyle Diamond Mine. And then she presented them to the rest of the 6000 audience members!

Then came the big moment when the kids’ chorus started singing “I Still Call Australia Home,” accompanied by Hugh, Olivia, Keith, Nicole and Russell Crowe. The star power on that stage was dazzling. When that flag starting unfurling over our heads, it was magical.

The Ultimate Viewers were the first to leave the taping, and the crowd’s reaction as we walked out of there brought us to tears. We could totally feel the love as they waved to us, clapped for us and screamed for us to come back soon. One by one, they were calling out, “thank you,” and we were calling out, “thank you” back to them. We were yelling, “We love you” to them and they were yelling “We love you” back at us. It was just a surreal moment and the perfect end to our trip.

Except we still had one big surprise in store for us.

After an evening of collecting email addresses and phone numbers, taking photos and packing up all our memories, it was time for the first group to leave for the airport. We were in the later group so Amy and I took a quick walk through the Botanical Gardens, then Janet and I visited the Sydney Museum. We didn’t want to miss a thing!

We traded in our Australian phones for ones we could use back home, praying that all our photos and video made the conversion. Then we were off to the airport, where we stocked up on Tim Tams to share with our families and friends.

While we were waiting at the gate, our group was ushered together and we knew something was up. Suddenly, to everyone’s shock, Oprah walked over. She didn’t know why we were so surprised, saying of course she had to come say “goodbye” and “thank you” to us. Really?! She totally did not have to do that, and the fact that she did shows what a class act she is. We were so touched.

She thanked us for being the “ultimate Ultimate Viewers,” and told us to expect some post-Australia depression. She encouraged us to hold this experience in our hearts forever, and to build on this momentum and spread the love. I said we would pay it forward and she repeated, “Pay it forward.”

So that is what I’m going to do in both my personal life and through this blog.

I hope you’ll join me as I pay it forward and make this the gift that keeps on giving.

Epilogue:

Watching the four Australia shows on TV last week was in some ways even more emotional than actually being on the trip. It made me realize just how big this experience was, and how incredibly blessed I was to have been chosen to be there. I have not taken one minute of this gift for granted.

I am on Facebook with my 299 new friends every day, not just reminiscing about the past but planning how we are going to use the incredible energy of this group to make a difference in the future.

I am so grateful for the love and support of my friends, families and readers, who have encouraged me to share my stories – and who keep asking for more, even when I feel I must be boring you to death. You have all made this experience even more meaningful to me.

The main reason I wanted to devote so much space to our Ultimate Australian Adventure is to show you that anything really is possible. I am living proof that dreams do come true.

So dream big, send your dreams out into the universe and watch the magic happen.

day 7 of our ultimate australian adventure with oprah, in which we sail in a regatta, oprah reassures us we’re there for a reason, and we get to see u2 in concert

For people who are not sailors, we sure had been on a lot of boats the past few days! This morning, we boarded yachts for a private Oprah Regatta around Sydney Harbour, and we even signed up to help out as crew members, as well. Amy was a bit wary – she is a devoted landlubber now – but she didn’t want to miss this Oprah activity, so she donned her seasick bands and, with the help of boatmate Rose Cowan, made it through like a trouper.

The sight of the Harbour filled with these 20 beautiful boats celebrating Oprah’s Farewell Season was so moving. The impeccable attention to detail taken with each of the sails reflected the level of care and professionalism of our hostess herself. We took turns at the helm, with a gentle nudge from our professional captain whenever there was a traffic jam or whenever we started steering, uh, drifting, a little too close to Oprah’s boat.

We had a relaxing morning on the water, enjoying the breathtaking views. By the end of our ride, we were standing up and holding on tight as we sailed past the Sydney Opera House and under the Bridge we had just climbed yesterday. It was a totally different view from down here!

When we were back on dry land, it was time for lunch at Bungalow 8 at Sydney’s King Street Wharf. There were people and cameras all over because You-Know-Who was coming to have lunch with us.

As we were settling in at our table, I noticed someone familiar walk by on the other side of the fence. He waved and I automatically waved back, but it took me a minute to realize who it was. Russell Crowe! OMG! I grabbed my camera and ran to the fence. He had just taken Oprah out on his boat, and he graciously stopped to pose for photos and say hello to us.

Meanwhile, Oprah and Gayle were making their way into the restaurant which, with everyone vying for their attention, was no easy feat.

Oprah gave another empowering speech that day, one that came at the perfect time for her Ultimate Viewers, many of whom had, at some point, commented that they didn’t deserve this huge gift we were receiving. “You are all here for a reason,” she reassured us. “No one is here by accident.” I got goosebumps as she went on to explain that she and the producers had read and re-read every application, that they knew everyone’s stories and had handpicked each person for this trip. “That’s why there are no assholes here!” she laughed. We roared — you’ve got to love it when Oprah swears! — but, inside, felt much better!

Oprah also told us that when she was younger, she disliked her name because she could never find it on any of the little license plates or tchotchkes that the other kids had. She waited patiently for Miss Louise on Romper Room to look in the Magic Mirror and see her, but although she would say, “I see Suzy” or “I see Barbara,” she never saw Oprah.

Today, though, she realized that God had bigger plans for her, happily pointing out, “Now I have an O on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a Regatta with my name on it.” She assured us that whatever our background was or wherever we were from, “There’s a regatta with your name on it.”

Wow!

We called good-bye to her as she got into her car, mobbed by throngs of people, and told her we’d see her tomorrow at the tapings of her show at the Opera House.

With just a couple of hours until we had to be on the bus for our “surprise activity,” we all descended on Sydney’s luggage stores to pick up a bag or two to take home all the amazing goodies we had collected during our trip! Amy, Susan and I bought two bags for the three of us to use and, trust us, they were filled to the brim by the time we schlepped them to the airport.

At 6 p.m. we lined up for our box dinners (not the sandwich and chips you may be imagining — there were like six delicious gourmet courses in this unassuming box) and boarded the buses to – where? This was our surprise activity, and we had no idea what to expect.

Once we were all seated, Oprah came on the video monitor to welcome us and tell us we were going with her to see U2 in concert with opening act Jay-Z! Woo hoo! I love U2 and have wanted to see them forever. Another bucket list item – check!

It was so exciting to pull up in front of ANZ Stadium, where the Sydney Olympics took place in 2000. Our beloved Blue Shirts pointed the way (how in the world were they everywhere we needed them to be?) to our seats which – duh – were great! We bought t-shirts to commemorate the occasion, and rocked the night away to U2’s greatest hits with 70,000 other fans. We were especially thrilled when they recognized the special guest star in the audience by changing some of their famous lyrics to, “See Oprah Winfrey right in front of you!”

After a totally satisfying concert, we rode home trying to predict whether Bono would show up at one of the tapings of The Oprah Show tomorrow. Although we would LOVE that, it really didn’t matter – we had already had a “Beautiful Day.”

day 6 of our ultimate australian adventure with oprah, in which we climb the sydney harbour bridge, eat in historic districts and amy supports the australian economy

Today, we were told, our morning activity would take us to new heights – 134 meters above Sydney Harbour, to be exact! (I would love to tell you what that is in feet but I still have no idea how to convert measurements.) We were going to do the world-famous Sydney BridgeClimb! We were thrilled because, before we left the U.S., so many people had said this was a “must do,” and encouraged us to do it if we had the chance.

We were divided into groups and brought into a room for an introduction and a breathalyzer test. This was a little worrisome to some people who had indulged in one too many apple and thyme martinis the night before, but luckily everyone passed! We were given our bridge-climbing uniforms and lined up to get tethered to a static line on the Bridge. Then, led by our enthusiastic guide, we were off and climbing.

The Climb takes you along the outer arch of the Bridge, and you walk on catwalks and up ladders. For most people, it is really not scary – although it was fascinating and inspiring to watch Oprah last week and see how many people, including Gayle, overcame their fears to reach the summit. It is really fun and exhilarating, and it was amazing to look down and see all the Australian fans waving and taking pictures of us. Cars were honking their horns in support of us, and we literally felt like we were on top of the world!

When we finally got to the top, we could see Oprah and Gayle in the middle of the Bridge, and the helicopter which had been hovering overhead for a while, taking photos of us climbing, suddenly disappeared! We found out that it had to refuel and Oprah was not happy. We were setting a world record for the number of people on the Bridge at one time, and the cameramen were in that helicopter to take an official photo. This was not a good time to have to refuel!

Personally, none of us minded. Because we weren’t allowed to bring cameras or cell phones on the Climb, we once again were able to just relish the experience and marvel at the fact that our group – two thirds of whom had never been out of the country before – was standing at the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, setting a world record with Oprah Winfrey! It was another amazing moment in a trip full of them.

The 360 degree views were spectacular, it was a perfect day weather-wise and we were happy to wait as long as it took for the helicopter to refuel. Once the picture was taken, we headed back down, where we received certificates and photos proving we had made the Climb, along with some adorable souvenirs to remind us of our experience.

It was then time for lunch at the Waterfront restaurant in the heart of Sydney’s historic Rocks precinct. We sat with Sheree Franklin-Hill and her friends, who had all been part of the group which went to Uluru. We loved listening to their tales of this spiritual journey, which was transformational for them. We were riveted, just hearing about it, and we hope to share their stories with you soon. We also hope to visit there ourselves one day.

After lunch, we were given a choice of activities and the three of us unanimously decided on the Chic in the City shopping tour. Led by stylist Eliza, we were given the inside scoop on some of the best independent shops in the very cool neighborhood of Paddington. We got to visit half a dozen stores, and Amy did her part to give back to Australia by buying something in every single one!

I was no shopping slouch myself, although I did force myself to resist the adorable pillows Amy ordered in Lazybones because that was our first stop and I felt like I needed to see what was still coming. Lots of our fellow Viewers picked up some really great vintage-y dresses there, though, like the one Lucretzia Jamison is wearing here. How cute is that?! I should have bought one!

I did do some major damage at Jiva, which featured delicate little white linen and cotton shirts in yummy pastel patterns, and, of course, I couldn’t resist sampling and bringing home gifts from Just William Chocolates, where “Keith buys chocolate for Nicole.” They were a big hit with my family, and I should have bought more!

While Amy shopped at Fleur Wood, Susan and I headed to the Sanctuary Café behind the store to try and buy some of the tasty HealthyFeast treats, including their famous lemon meringue pie – which, by the way, is gluten-free, a fact you would never guess from its rich, sweet taste. We had the loveliest chat with HealthyFeast founder Kim McGlinn, who was yet another example of the warm, friendly, bubbly people we came to know and love as Aussies. She showed us the front-page article of the Sydney Morning Herald, which featured some of HealthyFeast’s delicious desserts, and we begged her to open a branch in San Diego …

Next, our group pretty much cleaned out Tessarella House, whose hand-crafted jewelry was an immediate hit with all of us. We loved everything they made, and I don’t think anyone left without a special purchase of their own. Allison Doty even found a pair of one-of-a-kind earrings to wear to her wedding this year! What a special way to celebrate her special day!

By the end of the afternoon, we were full – all over! Our hands were full from our own purchases and the well-stocked goody bags Chic in the City had so generously given us; our bellies were full from the treats at Just William and HealthyFeast; and our hearts were full from our conversations with the fantastic women we had spent the day with, including Janet and Wendy, Lucretzia and Rashida, and Allison and Nikki.

That night, we had dinner at The Cut in the historic Argyle Precinct. The prime Australian beef was delicious, as was the rich pate appetizer (which, interestingly, is called an entrée in Australia, while the entrée is called the main dish). Dessert was served in the 19th century sandstone courtyard, but we really tried to be good or we’d be over our weight limit on the flight home without even counting our luggage.

As an aside – and this was just a weird kind of thing – I went to the bathroom at the club over there and it was fascinating! Not only were they smart enough to make all the stalls accessible to women (they were all marked either W or M + W), since the W line is always the long one, but in the back, they had futuristic pods with urinals hidden behind them. The long, trough-like fixture in the middle of the bathroom looked like a pool table but was actually a sink with the water coming down from above. It was so cool, and so practical. But most interesting to me was the vending machine in the bathroom, selling Spare Soles, which we had just featured on StyleSubstanceSoul the week before. What were the chances of finding these here now on the other side of the world? It was another sign that all of this was meant to be!

If you’re thinking, “Okay, they’re just over-tired and possibly delusional now,” you may be right! We went back to the hotel to get a few hours of sleep before our big Oprah Regatta tomorrow.

day 5 of our ultimate australian adventure with oprah, in which we visit a kangaroo, walk the red carpet and oprah holds my hand

After a big night of partying, we were up early to have breakfast at our choice of four restaurants. Not surprisingly, we headed back to the Hamilton Island Wildlife Sanctuary to have our chocolate croissants next to the koalas. I was obviously in the throes of a deep love affair.

Once breakfast was over, we decided to tour the Sanctuary and finally got to see a couple of kangaroos – sleeping! – as well as a dingo (yes, the animal Meryl Streep claimed ate her baby in “A Cry in the Dark”), and the cutest little six-month old baby koala holding on to its mom. We were shocked to learn, as you might have on The Oprah Show last week, that koalas are the size of a jelly bean when they’re born.

On our way out, we ran into zookeeper Bec Barwell, who was holding Franklin. I took this as a sign! We told her how much we enjoyed our experience, and I sheepishly asked if I could hold him one more time. In a minute, Franklin was back in my arms and I was plotting how to get him back to San Diego.  As I hesitantly handed Franklin back to Becca, I asked her if she would do a Q&A with us at some point. She graciously agreed, so look for this as soon as we get back to real life.

Because of the crazy schedule – there was no down time on this trip – we had to change into our clothes for the big welcome party at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney tonight before we boarded the plane since we would have no time once we landed. Of course, it was the most tropical – read, hot and humid! – day of our Hamilton Island excursion so we all tried to find some balance between comfortable and dressed to meet Oprah. We figured everyone would know which Viewers had been at the Great Barrier Reef because we would be the ones with frizzy hair and creased clothing!

I was lucky enough to sit next to Mary Le again on the flight back to Sydney who thought it would be fun to be twins at the event tonight! (Note: Mary is a good – and I mean really good – 15 years younger than I am, so the fact that she could even say this with a straight face is a sign of her amazingly kind and generous heart and spirit.) She and her sister-in-law, Monique, had bought matching jewelry, but Monique wasn’t wearing hers that night and lent me her necklace and earrings, which were much more interesting and bold than what I had on. They stood out so much, you can see them on me in one of the most popular photos from our trip (see below!). Thank you, Mary and Monique!

When we arrived back in Sydney, we were ushered on to buses that took us to the stunning Royal Botanic Gardens where we were welcomed once again with a moving Aboriginal blessing, and led on to the Red Carpet, past the cameras and paparazzi. The party had been styled by food editor/author/designer Donna Hay, and the attention to detail was impeccable.

Tons of sand had been carted in to create a replica of Australia’s famous beaches, and we all gathered there to await the star of the evening. When Oprah made her arrival, she looked absolutely stunning in a sophisticated, stand-out signature silk kaftan from local designer Camilla Franks. We weren’t surprised to see Camilla on the news the next morning, saying orders for her colorful kaftans had gone through the roof overnight and that she wouldn’t be having a Christmas vacation this year!

Trying to get everyone together for a group photo was quite a feat, and once again proved why Oprah is the real deal. One of the first announcements she made was that we were going to take a bunch of photos and that after each one, the first two rows would move to the back so everyone would have a turn in the front. Wow! This was such an easy way to make everyone happy, and she had thought about it ahead of time to insure that we were all treated fairly. Wow again!

My new friends, Janet and Wendy, and I were close to the front in the first picture but for the second one, I ended up right next to Oprah WHO GRABBED MY HAND while everyone was maneuvering themselves. I know I sound like a groupie but it was such an exciting moment! Janet looked over — in shock — and immediately put her hand on top of ours! The two of us were grinning like fools and holding on to Oprah’s hand for dear life! We probably terrified the poor woman, who subtly removed her hand before the photographer snapped the picture. The next day I started getting emails from my family and friends who had seen the picture on Huffington Post and were laughing and rolling their eyes that I was standing next to the Big O herself.

Courtesy of Huffington Post, Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

The party itself was one of those events you always dream of going to – in an unbeatable location (Sydney Harbour, overlooking the iconic Bridge) with unparalleled food by top chefs (I parked myself by the seafood for a good half hour, where I held court over the shrimp) and an A-list of guests (OPRAH!). We weren’t allowed to bring in cell phones or cameras which was great because we it forced us to stay in the moment and experience everything there, but not so great because we were in such a surreal place, we can’t possibly remember half of what we experienced!

Kristina Keneally, the premier of New South Wales, gave a warm welcome speech and then Oprah welcomed us herself with a heartfelt and moving tribute to her Ultimate Viewers. I was standing only a few feet away from her, and I swear she looked me right in the eye during parts of her speech.

Courtesy of Oprah.com

There was not a dry eye in the house as she told us this whole experience was proof that anything is possible and that we should continue to dream big. We laughed when she said, “I don’t want to hear you, 20 years from now, pullin’ out the photo albums and sighin’, ‘Oh, remember that trip to Australia 20 years ago? That was the best time of my life.’ This is not the best thing that will ever happen to you.” She went on to encourage us to get out there and make every day the best and make all our dreams come true. I wish I had that speech on DVD because those were some of the most powerful and inspirational words I’ve ever heard.

After Oprah’s speech, we all went outside for more goodies – like yummy gelato from Gelato Messina. I had a cup of salted caramel, and if you want to know how delicious it tasted, just take a look at Analee Papageorge’s face in the footage on last week’s Oprah!

While we were enjoying our treats, we witnessed probably the most extraordinary fireworks display we’ve ever seen – and we’re from the country that celebrates the Fourth of July! It ended with the illumination of an “O” for Oprah on the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and was another one of those moments that made us just tear up in appreciation for all we had been given.

Courtesy of Oprah.com

The gelato was all we needed but back inside, dessert was being served in all its glory. Honestly, I can’t even remember what was there – by that point, it was all a scrumptious, sugar-coated dream — but I grabbed something chocolate and went over to watch Guy Sebastian perform. I was swaying to the music when Gayle turned around, saw my plate and asked me what I was eating! This seemed like such a Gayle thing to do, and I loved that it was really happening! I told her it was something chocolate and delicious, and asked her if she wanted some. She eyed it longingly but said she would go get one after the performance.

Guy Sebastian was great. He sang a bunch of his hits and got the crowd dancing – which they continued to do for hours. We couldn’t make it to the end – we were full in every way possible and couldn’t dance all night again — we headed back on one of the buses which was leaving every fifteen minutes. On our way out of the Botanic Gardens, we received generous goody bags including Guy Sebastian’s latest CD and Donna Hay’s Fast, Fresh, Simple cookbook, both of which will always remind us of this magical night.

We still had three days left in Australia. How could each day just keep getting better and better?

day 4 of our ultimate australian adventure with oprah, in which we hug koalas, sail through the whitsundays and susan krumps the night away

In the first three days of this miraculous trip, I had already checked two huge items off my bucket list – snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef and meeting Oprah in person, neither of which had ever really seemed possible to me – and I was about to check off number three.

I could barely sleep the night before because I was so excited about our breakfast with the koalas. We had already had the opportunity to pet one at the Sydney Taronga Zoo, but now we’d actually be able to hold them. This is something my kids and I had always wanted to do, and I definitely felt guilty about getting to do it without them. It’s apparently something Oprah and Gayle had always wanted to do, too, because it’s the first stop they made after landing in Australia.

At 7 a.m. (sleep was not a priority on this trip!), we headed over to The Outrigger, where Becca from the Hamilton Island Wildlife Park was standing with Elvis, the frisky koala who had already made a name for himself by demonstrating the real meaning of “mate” in front of Oprah and Gayle yesterday, while mellow little Franklin slept in a little tree set up just for him. Becca had brought over two koalas so they could take turns being held since posing for photos tires them out – as does just about any other activity!

Holding Elvis was one of my favorite things ever! Although his nails look sharp, he didn’t dig in – he just cuddled up in my arms, and I honestly would’ve been happy as could be if they just let me hold him all day. He was so soft and roly-poly, and that face was absolutely irresistible. They pretty much had to wrench him out of my arms so the next person could hold him, and I’m sorry, Amy and Susan, if I hogged him during our group photo!

Just watching the koalas hang out is enough to make you smile. They are true tree huggers, contentedly spending their days sleeping and chewing on eucalyptus. With tiny brains, they are the epitome of the saying, “Ignorance is bliss!” I am so grateful for being given a chance to hold these magnificent creatures.

After chilling with the koalas, we were off to the marina to spend the day chilling on the Banjo Patterson. There were only 15 of us on this magnificent boat because many Viewers, including Amy, opted to stay on dry land after yesterday’s roller coaster ride to the Great Barrier Reef.

This was a completely different experience on the water: calm and relaxing, with absolutely breathtaking views of the Whitsunday Islands. Susan and I totally enjoyed spending time with Mary, Monique, Janet, Wendy, Cecelia, Jesse, Erica, Amy, Markylena, Georgianna, Rhonda, Bob and Sharon. What a great group of people!

We had a delicious buffet lunch on the boat and soon recognized the unmistakable white sand of Whitehaven Beach, where we’d had our amazing party the other night. We donned the now-familiar stinger suits – this time, they were a slightly more flattering navy blue – and most of the group took the opportunity to snorkel again. Janet, Wendy, Markylena and I opted to just go swimming instead. It turned out to be a real highlight of the trip.

Floating on the water was so peaceful and gave us a chance to really be present in the moment. The four of us were awestruck by the beauty surrounding us, the quiet splendor and the fact that there were only 15 of us in the world getting the opportunity to enjoy this time. It was enough to get us teary. Janet and I shared stories and became very close in a short period of time. It was a privilege getting to know people this way, and we are so grateful that Oprah brought us all together.

When we got back on the boat and changed back into our clothes, we were brought over to another part of the beach so we could take a walk through the Whitsunday Islands National Park. We hiked up to the top, where the views were gorgeous (I know I sound like a broken record but every view in Australia was more beautiful than the last one). We took lots of pictures to share with Amy, who was taking her own group hike back on Hamilton Island.

On the ride back, as we got closer to the marina, we were amazed to see a rainbow appear out of nowhere. We laughed and thanked Oprah for the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Only, the day hadn’t ended yet! We still had a good-bye party ahead since we were leaving Hamilton Island for Sydney tomorrow. The poolside event, held opposite the Reef View Hotel, was, as always, filled with delicious food and drink, but — also as always — it was the people that made it so special. Unlike the animal it was named for, the Koalas were an energetic group who sure knew how to party!

We danced for hours, with Susan becoming a star for her krumping skills! I wish we had video because she outlasted Viewer half her age, and personified the unbridled joy of dancing with abandon. Her krumping is now the stuff of Koala legend (much to the horror of her teenage daughter)!

Our Hamilton Island excursion had been a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us back in Sydney.

day 3 of our ultimate australian adventure with oprah, in which we snorkel at the great barrier reef, celebrate an underwater proposal and tool around hamilton island in our own private buggy

The only way to possibly top the magic of last night might be to spend the day at one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Luckily, the Great Barrier Reef was on today’s agenda!

After our usual 1000 calorie breakfast, we set out for the marina, where we were welcomed with adorable water-resistant bags which included a hat, sunscreen (Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world, so we were constantly reminded to wear sunscreen at all times) and a gorgeous coffee table book featuring up-close and personal photos of the underwater world we were about to enter.

The two and a half hour trip out to the Reef was a rocky one, which wiped out a lot of Viewers, including Amy. By the time we reached the Reef, though, everyone was back on their feet, unwilling to miss this amazing experience. Although I am not a snorkeler – I am a terrible mouth breather and always start hyperventilating with the mouthpiece on – I was determined to get out there. All I could hear was the voice of my son, saying, “You don’t go to the Great Barrier Reef and not go snorkeling.” So Amy, Susan and I signed up to go out with a guide.

We donned our very attractive stinger suits – they’re like wetsuits, but made specifically to ward off the jellyfish which had apparently become a problem – and walked along the pontoon to take photos, watch a giant sea turtle in the water and welcome Gayle, whose helicopter was heading in. We looked like a bunch of Teletubbies in our fluorescent – and seriously unflattering! – suits.

After meeting our guide at the “dock,” we jumped into the water and held on to a big inner tube while she gave us the scenic tour. Susan, who is a certified scuba diver, quickly realized she was more advanced than the rest of us and swam away to explore on her own.

The Reef was breathtaking – what an amazing world exists under the water! As Amy so eloquently put it, “It was like watching your own private National Geographic special through your goggles!” We saw tons of coral, all kinds of fish and our guide even showed us an incredible sight. After explaining that there was a certain kind of fish who was very territorial, she proceeded to demonstrate this trait. She dove deep down, moved a random shell from one spot to another and then told us to watch what happened next. The fish she had pointed out to us swam right over to that shell and moved it back to the exact spot she had taken it from originally! We would never have believed it if we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes!

We spent about 45 minutes taking in the sights and looking for Nemo. During that time, one of our fellow Ultimate Viewers, Blake Overstreet, proposed to his girlfriend, Sami Daraby, underwater! With the help of the Harpo producers, they had cooked up an elaborate plan for him to learn to scuba dive so he could hold up a “Will You Marry Me?” sign while Sami looked on – with Gayle – through the underwater viewing chamber of a semi-submersible. They are an adorable couple, and maybe we can all celebrate their first anniversary back in Australia together!

After a buffet lunch topped off with Tim Tams for dessert (ok, if you haven’t tasted these chocolate biscuit cookies yet, don’t! They are totally addicting!), Susan had a chair massage and I had a full-body massage, overlooking the Great Barrier Reef. Talk about indulging all our senses that day!

The ride back to Hamilton Island was enough to turn Amy off boating for a while but once we were back on dry land late that afternoon, we were given a new form of transportation: our own buggy! There are no cars on the island, so we drove around in our private golf cart, taking in the beautiful views and exploring the little shops downtown.

For dinner that night, we were offered a choice of five top-notch restaurants. Because we had so enjoyed the marina last night, we decided to go back there and eat at Bommie. The food was – as every meal on this trip seemed to be – delicious and beautifully presented. We had a wonderful evening getting to know the fantastic people at our table: sisters Mary Elizabeth Shah and Analie Papageorge, husband and wife Jesse Bush and Cecelia Behar (whose pregnancy announcement was featured on yesterday’s show), and BFFs Erika Beer and Amy Strike.

Although we had just experienced one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World (thank you, thank you, thank you, Oprah!), spending time with the amazing people Oprah had handpicked as her Ultimate Viewers was truly one of the best parts of this adventure. And it was the part we knew would last forever. Although we may never get to repeat some of these experiences, we will definitely stay in touch with the new friends we made. This we know for sure.