I am a 36 year old woman who may not live in "The Big City" but I like the little city I live in and there is a lot that goes on around here too! This is a place where anything can happen..or be written about!!!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lucky Amy!

G'Day Mates! I am so excited about this blog post! Not only do we all get to live vicariously through my good friend's amazing and life changing experience,  but I believe she will truly inspire you with her story...it absolutely inspired me!

"Lucky Country" is one of the nicknames for Australia, so I decided to call this post "Lucky Amy", because she got to go to her dream destination of Australia.......with OPRAH!

There are not many people in this world who are given an all expense paid trip to Australia, let alone during this trip be put up in some of the most stunning hotels, go swimming at the Great Barrier Reef, get to see U2 Live in concert, as well as get served dinner by the famous Australian chef Curtis Stone and a large group of handsome men in their swimsuits on the heavenly Whitehaven Beach, as well as hold a koala bear, beat world records, and get to meet Academy Award winning actors like Russel Crowe, and so much more .....and do all of this with Oprah Winfrey! Well "I kid you not", my good friend Amy Strike got to do just that, and being her friend for almost 14 years I can say without a doubt  that she deserved a trip like this! Amy is a truly lovely, thoughtful, easy-going, and fun person; I like it when exceptional things happen to exceptional people!

There will be no "croc" in this conversation! I am so looking forward to "chew the fat" with an "ace" of a friend who got to have a real adventure in the land of Oz! So throw on your ruby slippers and get ready to live vicariously through this "sheila"! My interview with Amy Strike one of the 302 people who got to go on Oprah's Ultimate Australian Adventure!

S:How did you get to go to Australia with Oprah?
A:One of my BFF’s, Erika is a huge Oprah fan - she really takes the Oprah message to heart in her day to day life. Once I had my girls, I found that I couldn’t watch the show as religiously as I once had, but I could always count on Erika to let me know when there were “not to be missed episodes” sitting in my DVR. When Oprah announced her search for her “Ultimate Viewers.” I knew Erika had to apply. When I thought of someone who had truly “gotten it” - Erika was it. I was delighted when I heard she had finally submitted her essay, a “thank you” to the woman who had been a mentor to her. I was even more delighted when I heard she had been invited to the show in Chicago and could bring a guest. She had invited her friend, who had also spent hours watching Oprah, living the message and sharing the joy. I was so incredibly happy for them to be heading to Chicago and loved hearing the story of the producers calling them.
While we were in Australia, Oprah said, “None of you are here by accident.” She was referring to the hours her team had spent reviewing the submissions from Ultimate Viewers (we refer to ourselves as UV’s!!!), but I knew at that point, we were all there for a reason. Erika’s friend could not go to Chicago with her and with just over a week to plan, Erika asked if I would consider a 3 day trip to the windy city. Would I???? A chance to sit in those red seats was something I could never pass up. When I got my own call from the producer, I literally jumped up and down on my bed - I’m pretty much convinced this will be my then-3-year old daughters first memory of me!!!
Erika and I chose to stay at the Hilton Hotel, where President Obama spent election night and we knew the moment we walked into that historical hotel, that we were in the middle of an amazing journey. We thought that journey was two haggard Moms getting away for a couple of days….little did we know……
The night before the taping (at this point, we had no idea that the taping was anything other than a “regular show”), Erika and I were about to board a boat tour of Chicago. We were dreaming that we might be going to a “give-away” show. I asked Erika, if she offers to make a dream come true, what will you choose?” Erika said she would choose to go to Asia. I said I would choose to go the Great Barrier Reef. Hmmmmm….

S:What is Oprah really like? Anything surprise you about her?
A:When I got back from Chicago, I remember telling people, “she is just real.” In between taping, she spoke to us, and was just a real person. Bottom line….she is amazing! In Australia, when we were at events with Oprah, some people were really assertive about meeting her, I wasn’t comfortable with that, so I definitely held back and didn’t push for the face time. However, each time she spoke to us, whether as a small group or all 302 of us, she was inspirational. I will cherish those memories of seeing her in person and I know that each speech changed me in some way. Erika is a lot like me and didn’t want to push and “bother” Oprah. We were blessed to meet Joann, who among our group of Ultimate Viewers, was the Ultimate Mom, and she pulled Erika over to Oprah to take a photo. I was privileged to be the “official photographer!” It was the least I could do for my friend who made my Australian dream come true!
The day we were flying back, about half of us headed to the airport in Sydney. I have to say, I was “all-in” during the trip and had given 110% to every activity, not willing to let a single moment of this opportunity pass me by, but by the time I got to the airport, I was done. We were taken to an area outside of our gate and there was tons of security and airport “brass” wandering around. The airport chaplain started a conversation with Erika and ended it with, “you are about to get a very special visitor.” Okay, time to put on some lipstick and see if I can rally!!!
Sure enough, Oprah arrives and stands at our gate so that as each of us is boarding the plane, we get a few minutes to speak with her. Why is this amazing? She had made it clear the night before that her “work” part of the trip was done. She was heading to Fiji with Steadman and was officially on vacation. I felt as though she was there for us, not for the show.
What surprised me is how much she affected me. I guardedly tell people that this trip was an almost "religious experience" for me. The reason for this is that bottom line, I want to be a better person. When I say I “guardedly” tell people this, it is because I know not everyone gets the whole “Oprah” thing (my husband included). One of the times she spoke to us, she talked about how we all have a “talk show.” Her message was, if you’re a teacher, let your classroom be your talk show. If you are a home maker, let your home be your talk show. We all have something to share and something to give. It had been a while since I remembered that and this is the beauty of Oprah. She isn’t making this stuff up - she is a conduit for all of us, including a mom from NH, to be reminded of the beauty and the power of each of our lives. For one hour each day, she feeds us the best of what is out there in personal growth and gives us the opportunity to move on and make dinner, or hold on to what she said and change our lives a little bit.

S: What were your top 3 favorite things about Australia?
A: 1. By far the people! Beginning with our flight attendant on Qantas, a lovely woman from Melbourne who told us to make sure we didn’t refer to our “fanny” while in Australia (in Aussie speak, this is a part of the female anatomy, to quote Seinfeld, it rhymes with Mulva….). Even the guys in the pub who “heckled” us as we were on our boutique shopping tour, yelling out “you go, girl!” everyone was just delightful. At times I was convinced they were hiring people to be around us, there is no way that people are that nice and that good looking!
2. The Beauty! I got to see one of the natural wonders of the world, and I am forever changed by it. In addition to the Great Barrier Reef, we were at this phenomenal beach (Whitehaven Beach) which is so clearly a protected resource, there were no houses lining the shore, the water was pristine and you felt that it was a point of pride for the Australian people. One of the things I really want to pay forward is that sense of pride in the natural resources that we have. This was even evident in Sydney, which despite being a bustling city is immaculately clean and crowned by the Taronga Zoo which celebrates the wildlife of Oz.
3. Attitude! One of the things that got air time on the shows was the quote about Australians “working to live, not living to work.” I think that the Australian people take themselves a lot less seriously than we do and put their “me time" first. One way this was evident was in how much they enjoyed the beauty around them, they were so proud to be where they were. I think there is also a live and let live attitude. When we finished the regatta, we went to a beautiful harbor-side restaurant for a brunch. As Russell Crowe was leaving, he stopped and chatted with a few of us and was just so friendly and real. And then, he just walked home…..can you imagine that happening in LA? This also happened with Olivia Newton-John who was on our flight home, even at LAX, she was waiting at the baggage carousel with the rest of us!

S:What were your top 3 favorite moments of your trip and why?
1.Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef - simply because it was a dream come true. I was like a child that day. I could not wait to get into the water and literally only came out long enough to eat a quick lunch. The reef is amazing, my favorite memory of that day (aside from the sea turtles and "Nemo fish"), is snorkeling over a part of the reef where I looked down and felt like I was looking over the Grand Canyon. It just went on forever, it was truly amazing!
2.Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb- Who wouldn’t love to break a world record??? I was so glad that we got to do this activity, it was amazing to see Sydney from that vantage point. I was a bit nervous (that bridge is high), but a lot of people had real fears of heights that they overcame to be a part of this event, and that was really inspirational.
3.Regatta - I loved stepping outside of my comfort zone and doing something that I hadn’t done before. It was really fun to help sail the boat, and being in a small group with those awesome UV’s was always a treat.

S:What do you feel that you took away from this experience that will stay with you forever?
A:Oprah told us (and I’m quoting from memory here so bear with me) “Don’t let this be the best thing that has ever happened to you.” This was a huge A-HA moment for me. I have had a string of tough things happen in the past few years and this trip was a true miracle for me, a reset button to remind me that good things really do happen. Once she said that, I realized that it was just the beginning. It reminded me of when I graduated from college and felt that anything was possible. Here I was, a mom of two girls who works from home (I literally live in my sweat pants), and I am on the other side of the world with Oprah. It reminded me of how powerful we all are when we believe in who we are. I don’t yet know what this experience means for me, but I know that Australia was just the beginning of something!

S: Did you get to"live like a celebrity"? And if yes, how so?
A:Yes! One thing that was kind of strange was that we were followed by papparazi. Australian paparazzi is very tame compared to American paparazzi, but it was still bizarre to be followed by cameras wherever we went. My family back home was finding me in news clips that I did not even know were being broadcast! Another thing that made me feel like a celeb was the fact that I was able to jump off the treadmill of my life for a full 8 days. Any adult can relate to this, but especially moms - I did not have to make a single decision for the entire trip. I had people lined up at the airport telling me which way to turn. I had buses lined up to bring me to my next destination. I never had to decide which restaurant to eat at, which activity to attend…it was all done for me. We had a group from “Event Architects” (we called them Blue Shirts, not very original, this is what they were wearing) who literally handled every single decision for us…amazing! This was the part of the experience that could really never be replicated, for those mom’s who are reading this, I think you can appreciate how priceless this is!!! My friend Debbie summed it up perfectly, “This is what our kids must feel like when we take them on vacation!”
That said, we were on the run the entire time we were there. We were bussed everywhere and while on the bus, the “Blue Shirts” would tell us what our next stop would be, how we should dress, and where to meet in the hotel. To give you an idea of this, my bus cheered the one time we were told we had 15 minutes to get ready for our next event! And for those of you fashionistas, remember, these are Oprah events!!!! Can you imagine doing hair and make up in less than 5 minutes! The night of the “Garden Party” at the Botanical Gardens, we were coming back from Hamilton Island. We were told that this was “The Event” to wear our best outfit, but we had to wear it on the plane! We didn’t even have time to change at the hotel before heading over there! It is actually kind of a fun memory for me, running though the airport in my little black dress and hiking sandals, only to end up in the group at the Botanical Gardens that is going to walk the red carpet with Gayle!!!!

S:What famous people did you meet on this trip besides Oprah? Anything you can share about them?
A:Curtis Stone is my new favorite celebrity chef. He is kind and, oh, so handsome! The event at the beach was over the top, 2,000 pounds of seafood, lamb kabobs, fresh fruit cocktails, ice sculptures and of course, shrimp on the barbie. Yet, he made me feel like I was back in my waitressing days, hanging out with the chef after a tough shift! He was THAT friendly. He is dating Lindsay Price of 90210 and Lipstick Jungle fame, and while I didn’t speak with her on the beach, those who did said she was lovely. I was standing next to his parents on the boat ride home and they were giving one of the UV’s their email address, because they didn’t bring their camera! Real people, the story of Oz!
I know some people who are die-hard Gayle King fans. I always liked it when she was on Oprah but I never took it to the next level. Not anymore….I’m watching her show on OWN, listening to her on XM-Radio - I am an official fan. Why? Because she will nudge you in the buffet line and tell you to try the corn. She is that kind of person. She literally flew onto the beach in a helicopter next to Oprah and is real enough to say, “try the corn.” I like that!
Since "SITC" is such a music lover, I have to give props to Guy Sebastian. He is the Australian Idol winner and he performed for us in Sydney. I came home with one of his CD’s and I love that my kids are always putting it in the CD player. Please check out his music, he is phenomenal! If you have kiddo’s “Like it Like That” will make them dance their pants off- and maybe, just maybe, you too! It is my new favorite shower CD!!!

S:What was the group of people who went with you like? 
A:The first word that comes to mind is “powerful”!  I’m saying this because we now keep in touch regularly and morphed what started as a reunion, into a day of service and powerhouse of community giving. We have helped people network for jobs. We have set times for group prayers for people who really needed it. We have fund-raised for the flood victims in Australia. We are trying to harness the collective “power” of our group and it is amazing. This is an “after-effect.” When I was there, the people I was with were FUN!!! I had so much fun with each and every person I met.
When we were standing in line at Harpo Studios for the show, we met a mother and daughter from St. Louis, and two good friends from California. We instantly connected with these women once we knew we would be heading to the other side of the world with them, I could not wait to see them again!
In addition to these women, I made friends...Real friends. Friends who I hope will come to NH some day and hike with me. Friends who I hope will take me to their favorite pizza joint when Tom and I finally get to Chicago for that Cubs game. Every time I was with one of my UV’s, I felt like I belonged.
The night before the “show tapings” we had a surprise event. The rumors for this event were swirling, Bon Jovi concert, Beyonce, the possibilities were endless. We all lined up in the Treasury Room of the Intercontinental Hotel (our usual meeting place) and were handed boxed dinners (…ummmm boxed dinners are not what I have become accustomed to….). As I got to the door, I was told by a “blue shirt to go board the next bus.” I politely told him that I was with my friend, Erika, and did not want to be separated from her. He told me, not to worry, we would be re-united at our rendevous point!
Okay, I’m on the bus, alone. I’m sitting next to a woman I have met before and who is lovely. Her daughter is behind us, along with another woman who is a teacher and a true inspiration. The Harpo film crew boards the bus. Now I know why I had to separate from my BFF, they needed to fill these seats….Oprah comes on the TV and announces we are headed to a Jay-Z and U2 Concert, the bus goes wild (this is the bus you saw on TV)! Now, I love going to concerts, it is one of my favorite things in the world, but I’m kinda on my own…hmmm… at least the blue shirts said we would meet up at the end.
Well, they were wrong. We were handed tickets as we got off the bus so I was rows behind Erika, and here is the beauty of the UV experience, I was okay with this. I was with two women who I “kind of” knew at a once-in-a life-time experience. HOLY COW, I’m watching Jay-Z and U2 at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney Australia…..
It went beyond this, I never felt bad separating from Erika to make this trip my own. During the regatta, we were given options of which boat we wanted to be on. Erika had a bout with sea sickness and really wanted to be on the biggest possible boat. I had never actually sailed and the idea of tacking and raising the sails on a boat were really exciting to me. It felt amazing that during the session where we decided who would go on which boat, I could look around and know that there was no guilt in doing my “own thing” and letting Erika do hers. It was so powerful to know that even though we were there together, we could do our own thing and always be buoyed by the amazing group of people we were with.

S:Any life lessons you learned from this unique experience?
A: I was reminded of the law of attraction, and that when you put positive things into the world, positive things will come back to you. I have always tried to live this way, but since being back I have made a full-blown effort to project a positive attitude each and every day, regardless of how negative I’m feeling! I am amazed by the results this is producing for me!
I am trying to live with intention, but this is new for me so it is taking some practice! Each day I try to set an intention for myself, mostly around the kind of wife and mother I want to be. I’m finding that saying something aloud is a powerful way to frame my day.

S:You know how much I LOVE animals... what are Koala bears really like?
A:Ugh….I sooo want to have a Koala bear in my house! They sleep for about 20 hours per day, so they are lazy little buggers! I went to Queensland which is the only state in Australia where you can still handle Koala’s (I don’t know too much about why this is). The koala’s I met seemed fine with being snuggled (and god knows I loved it), but they did get tired and would need to be switched out from time to time. Their fur is coarse and they have long claws, but they didn’t hurt at all.

S: The Great Barrier Reef (a complete dream destination of mine..just for the sharks alone! ;) ) What was it like to swim at the most amazing reef in the world?
A:I loved every minute of it! We did not see any sharks though (thank goodness!). The fish were beautiful, and I loved being able to see those amazing sea turtles! I snorkeled the entire time we were at the reef, I never wanted to come out of the water!  I think a trip to Australia should be on everyone's bucket list!

"Hoo-roo" for now!