Oprah adventure!

Longboat Key sunset

Of all the weeks of my life, I think this one will go down as the craziest and most wonderful one ever. Today, Sunday, I’m writing this post from sunny Longboat Key, Florida, where it will be 80 degrees later today. On Monday, I was shoveling 18 inches of new snow at home in Minnesota. And by 6am Tuesday morning, I was in a car with my best friend, Betsy, bound for Chicago and a spot in the Oprah Show audience. It’s hard to believe it’s only been seven days.

But, first things first.


I received this email message ten days ago, on Thursday, February 17…

From: OprahShowAudience
Subject: Audience Invitation to Attend “The Oprah Winfrey Show”! Please READ & RESPOND.
Date: February 17, 2011 3:23:21 PM CST
To: undisclosed-recipients

You are receiving this message because you sent an email to oprah.com about being available on Wednesday February 23, 2010. I read your email and would like to invite you to attend the taping of this show to be in our audience!

…to which I replied:

“OMG!!! YES, YES, YES! Of course I can make it!”

Logically, I knew there was a snow storm coming. Logically, I knew I would be leaving for Florida with my family on Saturday morning. Logically, I knew my son had a huge presentation due for his geography class and needed my help. These things I knew.

But here’s what else I know. When you’ve been trying to get tickets to the Oprah Show for over ten years, you don’t question the logic. You just go.

Many of you followed our adventure on Facebook, but for those who didn’t, here’s what you missed:

Oprah Adventure – video update #1
On our way to the Windy City!
Feb 22, 2011 6:34am

Oprah Adventure - video update #1

Facebook status update
Just got on I-94 in St. Cloud… here we come Oprah!
February 22 at 7:37am

Oprah Adventure – video update #2
February 22 at 9:31am

Oprah Adventure - video update #2

Oprah Adventure – video update #3 (part 1)
February 22 at 1:15pm

(Betsy writing) After stopping in Eau Claire to eat, we got word that an old friend of Joy’s was in town getting his car fixed. It’s an Oprah-style surprise for Keith Oliver, father of Amy Oliver, a classmate of Joy’s from high school!

Oprah Adventure - video update #3 (part 1)

Oprah Adventure – video update #3 (part 2)
February 22 at 1:28pm

(Betsy writing) Joy finds Keith Oliver back in the service center waiting area. “Surprise! It’s Joy Almendinger!”

Oprah Adventure - video update #3 (part 2)

Oprah Adventure – video update #4
February 22 at 4:56pm

“You can say money, but it won’t get you too far…”

Oprah Adventure - video update #4

Oprah Adventure – video update #5
February 22 at 7:28pm

We finally made it! We’re checked into our hotel and having a little wine to celebrate our good fortune. Cheers!

Oprah Adventure - video update #5

Oprah Adventure – video update #6
February 22 at 11:02pm

We found a bit of deep fried crawfish and authentic blues at a joint just around the corner from our hotel. Would have stayed longer, but are abiding by the self imposed Oprah Show curfew!
Oprah Adventure - video update #6

Oprah Adventure – video update #7
February 23 at 5:28am


Oprah Adventure - video update #7

Facebook status update
In the cab… on our way!
February 23 at 6:31am via Mobile Web

Oprah Adventure – video update #8
February 23 at 6:45am

‎(Betsy writing) We arrive at Harpo Studio at about 6:45am. It’s a beautiful day and we are among the first in line! We are getting so excited it is hard to think. Once we wait in this hallway for a few minutes, we are escorted inside, they take our coats and hand us a blue disclaimer form. There is a lot of information in small print that totally overwhelms Joy. Soon we are escorted into a holding area where we sit patiently with 300+ women (and a few men) all dressed up and buzzing with excitement! Is this really happening?

Oprah Adventure - video update #8

There’s a big gap in time here, and that’s because we couldn’t have any cameras, phones, or even a piece of paper when we went into the studio. They took us through security and went through our purses, putting all non-admissable items in a Zip-loc baggie. They took our coats and gave us a blue piece of paper to look over and sign.

Here’s how my mind was working at this point:

What is it? This thing? Let’s see… it’s a blue piece of paper. Lots of words. So many words. My God, what does it say?? Think Joy. It’s a blue piece of paper. It has a line at the bottom. That means I’m supposed to read it and sign it. OMG… I can’t read this. I can’t think. I can’t process. Just give me the damn pen.

They ushered us into a holding room with rows of seats arranged back-to-back. At this point, we still had no idea what the show was about, nor what to expect.

Here was my thought process at this point:

Oprah. We’re going to see Oprah. I wonder how all these people got tickets. I wonder what the topic is. Let’s see. Do these people look like they have anything in common with me? Maybe it’s a show about blogging. Maybe it’s a show about Oprah’s biggest fans. Maybe Betsy had something to do with this (I eye her suspiciously). No, but that can’t be… I’m the one who got the tickets. I wonder why no one knows what the topic is?? OMG. Maybe we’re all getting on a bus and going somewhere. Maybe we’re her best, most ultimate viewers ever, and this will be something even bigger and better than the “Favorite Things” show or a trip to Australia. Oh, but it doesn’t matter what the topic is. Just being here is enough. Just getting to see Oprah is enough. But, I just wonder…

Betsy and I had been very careful to wear bright, colorful, non-patterened outfits in hopes of getting a front row spot. When they called our numbers (that were on the blue piece of paper… we had no idea), we were ushered into OPRAH’S STUDIO where we were asked to pick a spot in the back section. We ended up in the second to the last row… which was actually a great seat. Oprah’s studio is much smaller than it appears on TV, so we were actually very close to her, even in the back row.

As it turns out, the show was about Susan Lefevre, aka Marie Walsh, the fugitive mom. She was arrested in Detroit at age 19 for a drug-related charge. She was promised probation, so she plead guilty and ended up getting sentenced to 10-20 years in a medium security prison. She was so distraught, she ended up escaping, then went on the lam for 32 years and became a suburban wife and mother in California.


It was an interesting topic, but truth be told, I could not follow a word that Susan Lefevre/Marie Walsh was saying. It may have been similar to the blue paper situation, or it could be that Susan/Marie was rambling a bit, but whatever the case, I think I will watch the show and say to myself, “Huh, I don’t remember her saying that.”

Oprah Adventure – video update #9
February 23 at 11:30am

‎(Betsy writing again) If I seem emotional and mushy in this clip, it is because I am. What an experience. Along with witnessing a great Oprah Show, we got to spend another 45 minutes or so just chatting it up with Oprah after the taping. She was all that we had hoped she would be…. so funny, so real, so kind and so gracious. She told stories, swore, answered questions and gave us the inside scoop on lots of fun topics. She also joked about her hairstyles and many fashion mishaps from the 80s. It was fabulous! Yes… I cried… WE cried… out of pure happiness. Sappy, I know. But hey… it was Oprah! And she rocks!

Oprah Adventure - video update #9


It was an amazing, crazy, inspirational journey that left me thinking… this was meant to be. Betsy and I… at Oprah… after all these years of trying… during Season 25, her last year… while we ourselves just so happen to be on sabbatical celebrating 20 years of business…

Yes, it was meant to be. I have so much more I’d love to share about Oprah, but my word count is already nearing 1400, and I really need to move on to my Villa Am Meer story this week, while I’m on Longboat Key.

So, THANK YOU OPRAH. Thanks for the memories. And don’t forget to check Betsy’s blog at betsybonnema.wordpress.com for more about our Oprah Adventure.

Here’s our final wrap-up video that we took in the car on our way home (note this was taken via web cam, so the image is reversed… Betsy’s the one driving). Thanks for following our journey, and check in to read more about Villa Am Meer this week!!

Oprah Adventure - final video update

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We interrupt this regular blogcast…

For those of you who have been following my Love Letters story, I apologize for this momentary lapse, but I have some important news to report. Huge news. Huge enough to preempt my regular blogcast.

You see, after many, many years of trying… my request has finally been accepted, and I AM GOING TO SEE OPRAH!!!

Yes, it’s absolutely true. This Wednesday, my best friend (and business partner) Betsy and I will be in the audience of the Oprah show. We have no idea what the topic is yet… nor do we care.

We. are. going. to. see. Oprah.

When I heard Season 25 would be Oprah’s last year, I decided to pull out all the stops in order to get tickets for her show. Over the years, I’ve tried phoning, emailing, snail-mailing… the works. However, Season 25 presented a new challenge. Anyone wishing to attend a taping of the Oprah show had to submit an online request and, in a nutshell, tell the Harpo staff why they were worthy of being in the audience for Oprah’s final season.

I tried them all.

I have told Oprah how much I love Shaun Cassidy, M.C. Hammer, and Diana Ross. I’ve written long dissertations about being a multiple (a twin that is, not personality), why the Sound of Music is my favorite movie of all time, and why I am absolutely one of her ultimate viewers.

Denied. Denied. Denied.

I have recorded every show. Read every Book Club book. Followed Jean Chatzky’s Debt Diet. Last week, I even bought her favorite Centerville Chicken Pie from Harry and David.

Anything for Oprah.

However, time was winding down. This was the last season, and alas, it seemed this would be one item on my bucket list I’d never be able to cross off.

When I saw an audience reservation topic titled, “Girlfriend Groups,” I thought AHA. This, I know. This will surely get me a spot on Oprah. Here’s what I wrote:

In 1991, when I was in my young 20s, I moved from Minneapolis to Spicer, a small town in west central Minnesota. At the time, there were more people in my high school graduating class than the entire town combined. I really had no intention of staying. I followed a college friend whose family had a lake cabin in Spicer. She’d recently started her own graphic design studio and invited me out to do some freelance copywriting and waterskiing. We had a great summer, business was steady, and I bought in as an equal partner in the company. Then winter came. I learned that Spicer is really a summer town, and not much of a winter one. The cabin people left, the lake froze over, and I was more homesick than ever. But then, the craziest thing happened. Betsy (my friend/business partner) convinced me to join a pool team. She said it would be a good way to pass the time over the winter. I reluctantly agreed, and the decision changed my life. We joined a team with Diane, a party girl and former skating car hop; LeeAnn, a lawyer, singer, and guitar player who drank Jack Daniels on the rocks; and Shelly, a daycare mom who could bank an 8 ball with 90% accuracy. Over the course of that pool league, we got married, divorced, had babies, changed careers, raised families, laughed and cried. Then, in the fall of 1998, LeeAnn’s two year old daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Eight months later, Shelly’s 10 year old son, Cody, was killed when he was hit by a car. Five months after that, Emma died. We didn’t know how we could go on. But we did. We’ve helped each other through tragedy and triumph. We’ve learned to rely on each other as much as we rely on our own families. And to this day, we’re still as different from one another as any girlfriend group could possibly be. But love is the tie that binds. And love is what we do.

I had poured my heart out and hoped for the best. I waited for a reply which never came.


At that point, I realized that if I couldn’t even get Oprah tickets by laying it all on the line and ripping off my emotional Band-Aids, well, then, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

Then, two weeks ago, I saw a notice on the audience reservations page that said “Last Minute Availability! February 22 and 23 shows!” I have absolutely no idea what I wrote. Nothing long, nothing moving, and certainly nothing that followed any journalistic standards (at least not that I can recall). But, I guess it did the trick. I got the following email last Thursday:

You are receiving this message because you sent an email to oprah.com about being available on Wednesday February 23, 2010. I read your email and would like to invite you to attend the taping of this show to be in our audience!

I leapt off the couch and started screaming something about Oprah while my husband and teenage sons looked on in (shock? bewilderment? horror?). When I stopped shaking and could finally speak coherently, I read the entire email to them. It wasn’t a joke. I was going to see Oprah.

Bucket list, be damned.

So, join me this week as Betsy and I head out on our big “Oprah Adventure.” We’re heading out at 6am tomorrow morning, braving two feet of new snow, and hell-bound for the Windy Cindy. We’ll be blogging and podcasting along the way, so stay tuned.

OMG. I’m going to see Oprah.

Follow our journey…

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