I love love love the new Beauty and the Beast movie. One of the best parts, of course, is the Beast’s library, so I wrote “Belle Would Be Enchanted by These 10 Lovely Libraries in Hotels” for USA Today 10Best.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…]
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
“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…]
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.
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, fearlessly — with 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.