REAL SIMPLE Part I: “Pinch me…”

“Pinch me, I must be dreaming!”

“OUCH!” “Nope, it must be true!!”

The above is an exchange I had with my husband a little over a month ago after receiving an email from the folks at REAL SIMPLE Magazine asking if I would be willing to let them fly me up to New York City for a few days and do a photo shoot—complete with a top-tier photographer, stylist and hair & makeup person and a night’s stay in a chic SOHO hotel. “Ummmm, yes. I think I can do that,” I replied, hoping the person on the other side of the keyboard wasn’t kidding. And, to my delight,  they were quite serious.  So the morning after running the Be The One Run here in Atlanta, I was boarding a flight headed to the Big Apple and a new adventure!

In yet another comic twist where God pulled back the curtain to show His hand on things, I had to just laugh because I had recently reconnected with a girlfriend from high school just a week or so before who’s living in none other than…NYC!  Not knowing what the last few years had held for me, we exchanged a few “catch up” emails about what we both had been up to and where our lives had taken us over the decade or so since we’d last seen each other.  She’d said in her most recent message that she was currently living in New York and that the next time I was up that way, we MUST get together.  The very next day I received the email from REAL SIMPLE inviting me to do just that.  “How about next week??” I emailed back, smiling to myself.  “YES!!! That would be great!” I was flying in on a Sunday, alone, so I was ecstatic to not only have a companion, but an old friend who knew her way around.

We planned to meet for a glass of wine and then bumble around SOHO and its neighbors, the Meatpacking District and Tribeca, and settle in for dinner at whatever hip spot caught our fancy. My favorite way to see a city—set out and see where the day or night takes you!

We agreed she would meet me in the lounge of the hotel where I was staying, as it was closer to where we wanted to explore. As she walked in and we embraced, the decade between us dissolved as we began to chatter as if it had only been a moment or two since we’d last seen each other. Our lives had taken various turns, some sharp, some more gradual and yet here we sat, our paths joining once again.

We talked about how each of our faiths had grown over the last few years in different yet similar ways and as we walked the streets of Lower Manhattan, I felt the steady thread of a shared past that had linked us as we wandered through our youth into adulthood.  We were “grown ups” now and I looked at my friend from long ago with pride for the woman she’d become and for the woman she is still becoming.

After a yummy dinner, we hugged a quick goodbye as I jumped into a cab to return to my hotel. Durning dinner I had finally told her why I was in New York to begin with.  I filled her in about the “happenstance” email I had received from REAL SIMPLE asking me to come for a photo shoot and joked that it was awfully nice of the magazine to fly me up to visit with her.  As I sped away from her in a yellow blur, I had a moment of gratitude for our paths being brought back together, for the clarity of God’s hand on our reunion evident in it’s timing and with a giddiness that had been welling up inside me since the day I received the email requesting my presence at the TIME Inc studio. So I headed up to my room to get some much-needed sleep. …I had a big day ahead of me!

The next morning my eyes snapped open and a big smile spread across my face as I awoke, despite the fact that I was deliriously tired after a whirlwind couple of days, and quickly said a silent prayer to myself that the makeup lady would have enough concealer to cover up the bags under my eyes. Knowing it was going to be a quick morning, I’d ordered breakfast in my room and said another silent prayer of gratitude as the smell of coffee rolled through the door.  Having already flung open the drapes earlier, I sat cross-legged in a hotel bathrobe, the giddiness welling up again as I watched the morning hustle and bustle down on the street below and then shifted my gaze to catch the sun rising over the tops of the Manhattan skyline before me.  “Pinch me…”

As I stepped out the front door of the hotel, I seemed just to slip into the steady flow of morning “traffic” as people quickly hustled by.  To a random passerby I’d bet that I looked like I knew what I was doing and where I was going, but in reality I was repeating, over and over again, the directions the Concierge had just given me in my head, hoping I wouldn’t forget. I felt like I was living in a waking dream as I thought, Is this really happening? Am I really about to go do this? Thankfully the answer was “yes” and “yes” and I somehow managed to find my way to the studio without any major “detours”.  All in all, I was off to a good start.

Pausing only for a brief moment to take in the “TIME Inc” sign outside the doors of the studio, I rolled back my shoulders, gathered my mojo and headed in. “Hi! I’m Alyssa Phillips. I’m here for the REAL SIMPLE photo shoot today.” I barely believed my own words.  “Pinch me…”

I was led into a bright, airy loft space that was divided up into sections with cloth partitions.  Several people waved hello as I walked in, “Hey, we’re glad you’re here! Thanks for coming. We’ve been looking forward to meeting you. Your story’s really great.”  Seriously, am I dreaming?

“We have a bunch of clothes picked out for you. Take a look and see if you see anything you like.”  I turned and lovingly gazed at two large racks filled with dress after beautiful black dress all in my perfect size and hand picked by their stylist.  I felt my knees weaken as I made my way towards them, floating a little I think. “Pick out whatever you like and we’ll send you home with your favorite one. And after that we’ll get your hair and makeup done.” Please let me not be dreaming, please let me not dreaming, please let me not be dreaming…

The next few hours went by in a dreamy blur as the photographer, Peter Ash Lee, expertly led me though the shoot.  “Would you like to stay and have lunch with us? Or do you need to get going? It should be right up?”  Ummm, yes please!  In yet another surreal exchange, I told Peter how much I admired his work and “deconstructed” style and we started talking about some of the photos on his website.  “Oh, I love the one of Kerry Russell, that’s one of my favorites,” I said. And with that he started telling me all the “behind the scenes” info on all the shoots.  “Gosh, it was really, really cold that day (she’s featured in a bare shouldered dress) and we were in an abandoned high school here in the Bronx. She was a really good sport.” And on it went. I decided just to enjoy the experience and act like this was an everyday thing for me to just sit around and chat with a top photographer to the stars and the masterminds behind a leading national  magazine.  Ya know, no big deal, right??  

After lunch I bid them farewell, thanking them profusely for all they’d done and for my snazzy new dress.  I set out once again onto the streets of New York to explore during the few remaining hours I had before my fight home.  After all, I was all gussied up and it suddenly dawned on me that a forgotten glittery childhood dream had been fulfilled (see Part II).  So it seemed only proper to hit the town.

Click here to see photos from my post-shoot excursion. And as I headed back to my hotel to meet the car that would take me back to the airport, I smiled to myself at the evidence the magical grace and synchronicity that had brought me here and the gift of these last two amazing days.

So that’s it, after waiting months in anxious silence, I can now officially tell you that I’m in the current issue of REAL SIMPLE Magazine that’s “On Stands Now”!  And, blessings of all blessings, not only is the article a Cover Story, but my story is the first one featured in the section that is also a Cover Story. ”Pinch me, pinch me, pinch me!” My gosh…so humbling.  So, so humbling.  I truly am the luckiest girl in the world.

And actually that’s not it. While the above experience of course was a lot of fun, my true motivation in agreeing to do the story in the first place was in the hopes that it would spread a larger message of hope and healing and the information of the cutting-edge and basically unknown treatment  protocol I had.  I had prayed that it would reach those who needed it most.  This journey has always been bigger than me.  And sure enough, earlier this week I woke up to an email that instantly brought tears to my eyes. “My daughter has something similar to what you had. I know it’s a lot to ask, but could you call her. I’m just a desperate mom trying to help her daughter.” Minutes later, after collecting myself, I was dialing the phone. The article had already served its purpose. It had helped one person.

Since then I have been contacted by others who have said that they’ve been positively impacted by the article in big and small ways and I am forever grateful to the wonderful folks at REAL SIMPLE for this incredible opportunity, for their amazing kindness and generosity and for helping me to help others. My birthday is today and I can’t imagine a better gift. THANK YOU!!

To view the article, click here.





To see more photos of my NYC/Real Simple Adventure click here.

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  1. Vandy Vela
    Posted November 5, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Hello Alyssa,

    It’s Vandy from Destin AT&T :)

    Congrats on your Real Simple piece! Your blog on the adventure was entertaining…most enjoyable was the jaunt down memory lane: blue eye shadow and ‘perfect pink’ lipstick. ‘Enjoy keeping up with you on FB. ‘Will be in Atlanta from November 13-19, December 4-10 for training; let me know if I can treat you to dinner one evening. ‘Would like to hear the latest on your book publishing endeavors.

    An Alyssa Phillips Fan,

    Vandy Vela

    • Posted November 5, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Vandy! Great to hear from you!! I’d love to meet up with you and catch up! Let’s shoot for the December dates. Email me and we’ll pick a date! And thank you so much for your wonderful support. …Oh, and believe it or not, I think I may have finally talked Neil into the iPhone! :) We often talk about how right you were about how awesome the camera is on that thing now. Use mine ALL the time! Xoxo

  2. Robin English
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 2:13 am | Permalink


    I’m SO PUMPED for you. Amazing, amazing, amazing what God has in store for those who love him. You are the proof of that pudding, friend.

    love the picture of you and A. So, so, SO thrilled for you.

    love you, friend!!


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