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Jul
25

Wherever you’re heading this summer, check out these 10 Products That Will Help You Feel Safe While Traveling, which I wrote about for USA Today 10Best.com.

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my interview with elizabeth gilbert and a “big magic” giveaway

Big Magic

Could there be a better way to start the new year than with Big Magic?

I’ve been a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert since I discovered Eat Pray Love  — long before it became EAT PRAY LOVE — and audibly gasped when I saw the three words that pretty much guide my life. Her novel, The Signature of All Things, is the book that made me passionate about reading again during a disturbing dry spell, and I’ve seen her speak at two Oprah events and, most recently, in San Diego at a sold-out event I wrote about for the Del Mar Times.

Her latest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, is another must-read but for different reasons. Her self-proclaimed “manifesto” is a guide to getting rid of all the excuses that are holding you back from being the creative person you want to be.

I finished it in a day and have recommended it to so many friends who have also gobbled it up and thanked me for this life-changing book. It’s the kind of book where you nod your head, and end up highlighting almost every sentence. It’s profound and practical and written as though your best friend is talking to you.

In my head, Elizabeth Gilbert is my best friend so doing a phone interview with her was absolutely one of the highlights of last year for me. Although the book came out in September, I wanted this interview to be my first post of 2016 so her words would inspire you to read Big Magic, stop making excuses and get out there and do the thing that makes you happy. Because inspiring is one of Gilbert’s great gifts.

Speaking of gifts, I’m also giving away a copy of Big Magic to one lucky subscriber so be sure to read the rules to enter after you read what Liz (yes, we are BFFs now) has to say: [Read more…]

win kn karen neuburger pajamas and a trip to miraval!

KN Sweepstakes

How can you not adore someone who believes the best moments in life are experienced in pajamas?

I’ve been a fan of KN Karen Neuburger since my friend (!), Oprah, touted them as her favorite pajamas and gave them away on her first “Favorite Things” show. [Read more…]

oprah: what i know for sure

What I Know For Sure - hand

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…]

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

Rebuilding Lives, One Handbag at a Time by Louise van Broekhuizen

In Indonesian, “laga” means beautiful, and Laga handbags — which you can find on the arms of many celebrities — are absolutely worthy of their name. We remember seeing these bags on Oprah, and “ooh”-ing and “ah”-ing not just over the gorgeous designs lovingly embroidered by the women of Indonesia but also over the amazing backstory of the couple who founded the company. Roy and Louise van Broekhuizen, Californians of Indonesian descent, were called upon to help out when the devastating tsunami hit in 2004, and while they were there, they came up with a brilliant way for the local women to use their skills to rebuild their community and create a sustainable economy. We were so moved by their story, we asked Louise to tell us more. You will be so inspired by her words — and the harrowing tales of the tsunami survivors, which you can read on the Laga website — you will want to own one of these handbags. Go ahead and buy — this is a no-guilt purchase. By shopping Laga, you are empowering and giving hope to people who have literally lost everything else.

“It’s not about you.”

These are the first words in the book, The Purpose Driven Life, written by Rick Warren, who happens to be my pastor. They are words that made a huge impact on my husband Roy and me. But, as we learned firsthand, it takes more than just words to truly make a difference in the lives of others. It takes action.

And so Roy and I were compelled to say “yes” when we received a call from our church’s Missions Department in January 2005, two weeks following the Boxing Day tsunami whose epicenter was nearest to Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, to participate in the initial relief work.

We’d never been there. We didn’t know what to expect. We knew nothing about disaster relief or what we were supposed to do. And we didn’t know that this would turn out to be the worst disaster known in our lifetime.

At first, Roy led medical teams to the affected area and we had no communication between us. Working at my job, underwriting mortgage loans, helped keep me busy instead of letting my mind trick me into thinking that something might go terribly wrong since I hadn’t heard from him for weeks on end.

When he returned home from a trip, I would hear finally hear the heart-wrenching stories about the people he was helping that left us both crying many nights. And then he would be gone again, taking another team on another mission to help provide medical care and food and water and housing for those who were left behind.

After a few weeks we were able to start communicating, and I would sit at my computer, tears streaming down my face, as I read his emails:

“… children taken to orphanages daily; many parents don’t know where their kids are or if they even survived …”

“… large puddles of water, stagnant, not safe so people filling by hand with buckets …”

“… children are collecting bricks and knocking off cement and selling for 100Rp (.01 cent) so families can buy fuel to cook …”

“… 10 year old girl has been bleeding from her nose for two days and the family didn’t have funds to take her to the clinic; we were able to assist and she is now better …”

“… Red Cross volunteer was shot today …”

“… all fuel costs have increased in country by 50-100%, protesting breaking out – please pray for everyone’s safety …”

“… draining system totally broken, dangerous for travel …”

“… bodies still being recovered, 250-300 per day …”

“… mass grave with estimated 36,000 unidentified bodies, some stacked 20 deep …” [Read more…]

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…]

paws up for the ultimate day “o” service in chicago! by julie lemerond

This past Saturday, many of Oprah’s Ultimate Viewers decided to pay it forward with an Ultimate Day O Service as a tribute to Ms. Winfrey herself. Here, care of Julie Lemerond, is what went on in Chicago:

Last year, 302 of Oprah’s Ultimate Viewers were invited on the trip of a lifetime to Australia with Ms. Winfrey herself.  That trip, as special as it was, really was just the beginning of something even bigger.

Throughout the trip, Oprah would speak with us often.  She would ask us to not just go home from the trip and relive it through showing off photos and mementos, but to really go back and DO something to show your gratitude.  DO something to make the world a better place.

We were chosen for this trip because we understand her message; we get it.  We know that giving feels better than receiving.  We know that small acts have the power to create huge rewards.  We know that intention is everything.  We know that it takes a village. And we know all of this because of Oprah.

So it was with this spirit that we created the Ultimate Day O Service.

My group volunteered at PAWS Chicago, the Midwest’s largest No-Kill animal shelter.  What was beautiful about our experience was not just playing with fuzzy little furballs, but meeting the big-hearted people who work there.

Paula Fasseas, the founder of PAWS, talked with us about their mission to create a No-Kill City of Chicago by spaying and neutering.  Their services are low-cost, but they even offer free services in impoverished Chicago neighborhoods where pet owners would otherwise not be able to spay or neuter their animals.  Having this clear mission and goal has made PAWS one of the most successful No-Kill shelters in the country and a model that other cities come to learn from.

After learning more about PAWS from Julie Braeutigam, our volunteer coordinator extraordinaire, we broke up into groups and either played with the animals or helped with administrative tasks.  After awhile, our groups would switch places with each other.  Not only were we in the presence of wonderful employees and volunteers of PAWS, but we were also reconnecting with each other for the first time since our life-changing trip to Australia five months ago.  Some of us were getting to know each other for the first time, and we all got along just beautifully.  It was as if that Oprah Dust was still sprinkled on our shoulders and in our lives.  (Actually, as time goes on, I realize that this “Oprah Effect” will never leave me.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving.)

But the true beauty of what our day consisted of had perhaps nothing to do with these amazing humans surrounding me.  I was just so happy to be around the dogs.  I have grown so much since adopting my dog Maggie from the Maricopa Country shelter nearly three years ago.  The ways in which she has taught me about life far outweigh me teaching her to “sit” or “lay down.”

Animals live in the present moment.  They don’t wonder what they will be doing five minutes from now, or worry about what they did five minutes ago.  They only know the present.  As a yoga teacher I am always teaching people to be present, connect with their inner selves, and just simply be.  But even though I can teach it, I am still always trying to learn it myself.

And that is what animals do.  They simply be.  Even more than that, they offer unconditional love, they forgive, they don’t hold grudges, they are always happy to see you, they are appreciative of your presence … the list of redeeming qualities goes on and on.

They are, in essence, the perfect examples of what Oprah has always taught us to be:  Present.  Loving.  Giving.  Seeking.  Curious.  Hungry.  Happy.  Peaceful.  Content.

Drinking life in with huge gulps.

There is a suite in PAWS that was donated by Oprah and is dedicated to Sophie, her beloved cocker spaniel that passed away.  I walked in and immediately my eyes got hot with tears.  It was at that moment that I was joyful for everything I had experienced because of Oprah, aware of how much I have grown because of her, humbled by how much she has given me, and proud of what I am doing now because of her.

Read about the Atlanta Ultimate Day “O” Service here.

our atlanta ultimate day “o” service by keisha kuma

This past Saturday, many of Oprah’s Ultimate Viewers decided to pay it forward with an Ultimate Day O Service as a tribute to Ms. Winfrey herself. Here, care of Keisha Kuma, is what went on in Atlanta:

“We’re going to Australia!!!” Oprah told us in her own inimitable way. As the studio erupted into joy, disbelief, laughter, and tears, no one in that audience was prepared for the journey in which we were about to embark. It wasn’t just the breathtaking views from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or the delectable delights from the world-renowned chefs. It wasn’t just the rock star treatment or the rocking out with Jay-Z and U2. The journey began way before we left for Australia and it will continue long after The Oprah Winfrey Show has left the air. The journey began in the hearts of all 302 around the world. It began in Kenya, Jamaica, Canada, and almost every state in the U.S. It began with all of our stories that connected us to Oprah and to one another. It continues with our commitment to continue to pay it forward.

As we came down from our Aussie high, we kept reliving memory after memory with one another via text, phone calls, and social media. The one thing we knew for sure is that we would not let our connection fade simply into a wonderful memory. We decided that a reunion was needed and it had to be in Chicago on the weekend that Oprah was ending her show! We had a date and, in true Oprah form, we also had a purpose. We would use that weekend to pay it forward. We knew that it would be impossible for everyone to make it to Chicago, but that was not going to stop us. We decided we would do an Ultimate Day O Service in every city possible — and we did.

I had the privilege of heading the Atlanta UDOS. As I looked for places for our Ultimate Viewers to volunteer, I wanted to ensure that we would be wherever we were most needed. Tamika Longino told me about Nursecare of Buckhead, where her husband’s grandmother was a resident. I knew before she finished telling me about the facility that it was where we should be. What better place to kick off our Ultimate Movement than with family? Charity starts at home.

To begin the day, I handed out blue shirts to all the volunteers as a tribute to our wonderful family at Event Architects who had taken care of everything for us on our trip Down Under and whom we lovingly referred to as “The Blue Shirts.”

We then went off to meet, greet and escort our new friends down to the game room. We were ready to get this party started!

Our first mission was to give the residents of Nursecare a little of the pampering that Oprah gave us. It was time for manicures and massages.

Once our new family was thoroughly relaxed, they were ready for B-I-N-G-O! Most of the residents were ready for some heavy-duty competition although it looked like our massages may have been a little too much for one member!

We served treats, did some dancing and crowned our new bingo queen!

Our UDOS was full of laughter and lessons. Our children learned the importance of giving back to your community and doing for others. They also saw how far a smile, a touch, and a kind word can go. All the kids asked when they could come back and what they could do next. They made many friends there who asked the same questions.

So we are committing to visit with Nursecare of Buckhead at least once a quarter. Our next UDOS is scheduled for September 10, and we can’t wait! Stay tuned for our next adventure.

Read about the Chicago Ultimate Day “O” Service here.

From Paradise to Home via Oprah by Meredith Lee

Our good friend, Meredith Lee, may not be an official Ultimate Viewer but Oprah had — and continues to have — a huge impact on her. Oprah inspired her to make the most important move — literally — of her life, and Meredith, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, is paying it forward by inspiring others to fight for their own lives. Meredith, you go, girl!

Nineteen years ago I moved to Ft. Lauderdale on a friend’s suggestion.  She said it was like “Paradise.” Within three days, I secured a great job in a beautiful five star resort by the intercostal waterway, moved into a cute little apartment on a canal and bought a car.  It really did seem like paradise — until three months later when I was leaving work one night to get to my car and was the victim of a random assault.

Aggravated battery erased any resemblance of this city to “Paradise” for me. In fact, it had become the opposite, and I wanted more than anything to go live somewhere else but I had used up all my money moving to “Paradise.”  I stayed there uneasily for two uncomfortable years until I saw an Oprah show in which her guest had written a book, The Best Places to Live in America. I was riveted. She showed a short video clip which featured maybe five seconds about a town called Fountain Hills, Arizona. The words that came across loud and clear to me were, “…with a nearly zero crime rate.” I said out loud, “That’s where I want to live.”

Three weeks later, with my boyfriend in tow, I was living in Fountain Hills. It meant a lot to me that he had taken me seriously. We enjoyed the drive across the country even though we got a flat on every tire at least once during the long journey. The day we arrived, it was 107 degrees Fahrenheit. I thought I had made the mistake of my life. It was an extremely “dry heat,” an expression that Arizonians – one of which I am proudly now – find hilarious.

I love the wildlife and natural beauty here in Arizona. We are often delighted by javelinas, roadrunners, and a host of cacti, bugs and raptors. This is Paradise to me. I feel safe and secure, and have never looked back.

I thank Oprah every day for inspiring me to make the move. One trusted woman completely changed my life.

I have come to realize the importance of inspiration and change on an even deeper level as I embark on a whole new journey myself. In January I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I know, though, that I am a fierce warrior and now understand that I was put on earth to inspire others to fight this disease and never give up.

Thank you, Oprah. I’m sorry I never did get to tell you how much you changed my life.

Flirting with Australia by Noelle Elliott

Our fellow Ultimate Viewer, Noelle Elliott, waxes poetic about our hosts Down Under. As they themselves cheer, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie — oi, oi, oi!” 

I have a few typical labels. I am a mother of four boys under seven. I have a career, and work full time. I am an Ultimate Viewer who traveled to Australia with Oprah. Wait! That is not so typical.

I have been asked several times how I got so lucky to have been chosen for that trip. I believe that something I desired just a year earlier led me to that trip. I was pregnant with my fourth son, sitting on the couch one late night, eating ice cream with my husband. I told him that my life was starting to get a little, well, mundane. It wasn’t a bad life. I was happy; I just felt that it lacked, well, adventure.

As I polished off a bowl of mint chip, I told him that I wanted to be more adventurous, maybe get a tattoo. He supported me as he always does, and I went on with my life as usual.  I dismissed this conversation completely until I was laying on our bed amongst overstuffed suitcases, hesitant to embark on the trip of a lifetime to Australia. Being that I had never traveled farther than Hawaii, I was nervous about leaving for 10 days. It was then that he reminded, “You said you craved adventure, and here you are, going on the ultimate Australian Adventure. Don’t worry about us. Go and enjoy every second of it.”

I had ordered this trip, and the universe had delivered. I took my husband’s words to heart. He’s a fourth grade teacher and it was not easy for him to take care of four young boys —  ages 7, 6, 3 , and 7 months — but he was willing to do so because he knew I needed it. 

We landed in Australia with the secret password, “Oprah” which unlocked the door and took us from ordinary to extraordinary.  We all had a common thread that held us together: we admired Oprah.  We were treated like royalty by everyone from the guard in customs, to the Aborigine man who blessed us as we walked into a red carpet gala. I mistakenly thought this was because we were with the big O, but I soon learned that it was just the way Australians are.

If it is possible to flirt with a country, I did so, fearlesslywith the food, the ocean, the land and the people. And it flirted back, without abandon!   I have severe motion sickness — the kind that makes it impossible for me to even ride shotgun in a car — but that was not going to stop me. I came prepared with a prescription patch and sea bands. I was not going to say “no” to anything.  I had signed up for adventure and, by God, I was going to do it.  I sailed. I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I surfed. I snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef. I laughed — a lot. And I lived. It was during this visit that my life went from pastel to Technicolor. I was the same girl, just enhanced.  Australians have sunshine coming out of their pores, a way about them that just exudes happiness.

People asked if I missed my husband and boys. I did, but I found comfort in watching other children and families enjoying their surroundings. My best friend of 25 years was my guest on the trip. She joked that I was stalking babies wherever we went. I would ask strangers if I could touch their baby, and by the end of the conversation we had exchanged emails and promised to keep in touch. I met fellow viewers that will be my friends for life. As we sailed the Sydney Harbour, I had a humbling moment when I realized I hadn’t thought of my family back home for most of the day. I had been completely present up until that point.  That is the highlight of my trip. Me, lying on the front of a sailboat, in a net, watching the sail, feeling the sun on my skin.  Australia, like a good cup of coffee had woken me up.

As we were ready to board the plane home, Oprah met us at the airport to send us off personally.  I have watched Oprah since I was a child, and I find a familiar comfort in her face, but as I approached her I felt a little nervous.  She shook my hand and I told her that I was going home a better mother, a better person.  She put her hand over mine and smiled. “Well, it must have been one heck of a trip,” she laughed. And, with that, I confidently embarked on the other Ultimate Adventure which is my own life — this time, with a new perspective that only the Aussies and Oprah could have given me.