Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Vacation Made of Cheese

As some of you may have heard, we recently participated in what may be the craziest adventure of our lives.  Here's how it came about:

Several months ago, our good friend Mike entered a contest for a free vacation.  The entry was an essay describing why you and a group of friends and family members deserved a luxury vacation together.  We didn't know anything about it until Mike emailed us to give us the good news - he was one of three finalists for the week-long get-away at a nearby vacation destination, and we had been included in his entry essay.  The catch?  Four days of the trip would be filmed for a reality television show.  Hmmm...

John and I were skeptical.  Neither of us had any desire to be on television (I already knew that my acting skills were less than stellar, if my 9th grade production of The Princess Bride was any indication), but how could we pass up the opportunity to stay in a nine-bedroom house on a lake with our good friends, just two weeks before they moved to Italy for a year?  Besides, we reasoned, Mike probably wouldn't win the contest anyway.  Sure, we told Mike.  Go for it.

It was this exact same kind of reasoning that got us into the Foreign Service.

So, as you have by now realized, Mike won the contest.  Along for the ride would be Mike's parents, Alexis's parents, Mike's best friend and his seven-year-old twins, and John, Jack, and yours truly.  Over the past few weeks the details started to trickle in: this would be a "working vacation."  We should plan on leaving tired, since the crew had a very full schedule planned for us.  We were to pack for outdoor activities (and lots of them), to wear bright, solid colors, and to prepare ourselves for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The view from the deck
We arrived at the house, about three hours outside of D.C., on Wednesday afternoon (less than 24 hours after getting home from Santa Barbara).  True to the producer's word, the house was ginormous.  The main level featured a master bedroom, a large living and dining area with a fireplace, a kitchen with two refrigerators and two dishwashers, and a deck with two barbecues (there were a lot of doubles in this house, as you will start to notice).  Upstairs were two more bedrooms with en suite bathrooms and a game area with a pool table, shuffleboard, and a really loud and obnoxious arcade-style video game.  Downstairs there was another large living area, four bedrooms and three bathrooms, and a bar.  That pretty much made up the main house.

Living room
Of course, there was a second house attached to the first one.  It featured a laundry area, two more bedrooms with bathrooms, and an indoor pool and hot tub, as well as a sauna.  About fifty feet away from the indoor hot tub was an outdoor hot tub, as well as an outdoor pool and a large backyard.  I think that about sums it up.

On the first evening, we met with the director, two producers, and the makeup artist.  The first person who spoke to me was the producer.  "And who do you belong to?" she asked sweetly.
"I'm the wife of him," I said, pointing to John, "and the mother of that."  I pointed to Jack.  The director came over.  "And who is this cute young girl?"
Aw crap, I thought to myself.  They think I'm someone's daughter.  Sure enough, the makeup artist said cheerfully, "I thought you were a teenager!"  It was three days later when the producer and the makeup artist confirmed that I was thirty-one, not twenty-one.  They assured me it was a compliment and that I would appreciate it one day.  "And don't worry," the producer added, "you'll get boobs one day, too."

This is exactly the kind of behavior that makes people think I'm twelve, isn't it?
After we discussed what we could expect in the coming days, as well as the following day's schedule, the crew left us to watch a previous episode from the series.  I think that was when we all realized how much trouble we were in - this wasn't going to be a "reality show," per se, but more of a staged show with non-actors.  We were going to be given rough instructions on what to do and say.  The panic set in around that time, and didn't leave until four days later, when the director finally uttered the words I'd been longing to hear: "That's a wrap."

Jack kept himself busy by hugging inanimate objects...

I particularly loved how this one was located two feet from the ash tray.
But, there were still four days of taping to get through.  The first morning, John, Jack, and I headed to a ski resort to film Jack playing on a playground.  That went well enough, and the twins got suited up for the ropes course while we gave our lunch order to the PA and then "cheered on" the twins.  After that, the rest of the group headed over to a mountain coaster while I chased Jack all over the damn place.  Just as John was about to head out on the coaster, Jack fell on the gravel and hit his head, and I knew that was my cue to get home.  Jack was exhausted by the time he took his nap.  We missed out on the mountain coaster and the buggy rides (more like small Jeeps that you drive through the mud) and I can't say I was entirely sorry.

Once again lowering my maturity level; at least I have an accomplice.
Later that afternoon, the entire crew (in addition to the director, producers, makeup lady, and PA, there was a camera man, a still photographer, a sound guy, and a grip) came over to the house to film our "arrival scene."

Jack checks out the "dog on a stick," aka the microphone thingy.
First they filmed us pulling into the driveway, caravan style, about four times.  After that, we rushed up the steps and embraced each other like we hadn't seen each other in years.  Then we walked into the house, marveling at its beauty, and headed out to the deck to marvel at the view.  There was a lot of marveling over the course of those four days, let me tell you.  And I am not a natural marveler.  I prefer to keep my marveling to myself, thank you.  But when the director tells you to marvel, you marvel.  During all of this, John mentioned something about the house being made of cheese, and our inside joke for the trip developed.  It actually helped during the rest of the fake enthusiasm scenes, because it made us all laugh.

This family is made of cheese.
The next day John, Mike, Alexis, Mike's friend and the twins went to an ice cream factory and watched ice cream being made.  I stayed home with Jack and chased him over roughly 6,000 feet of living space (that's a total guess - it may have been larger for all I know).  We were scheduled to go river rafting that afternoon, the one activity I really wanted to participate in, but unless someone stayed home with a napping Jack, it wasn't going to happen.  Fortunately, the very kind makeup lady came over to babysit, and we all climbed into our cars and headed to the river rafting center.  I was a little worried that a man-made river wasn't going to make for very interesting rafting, but I was wrong.  We were given jackets, life preservers, helmets, and booties, and then divided into two groups.  I knew I was in trouble the second our guide mentioned he drinks six Red Bulls a day.  We weren't in the raft for five minutes before he said, "Odds are you will end up in the water today."  I've been river rafting before, several times, and the only time I've fallen out was when the guide got us into a hole.  The more the guide said we were likely going to fall out, the more I realized he had every intention of getting us to fall out, whether we liked it or not.  I no like.

Only Jack would dare take a moment to stop and smell the flowers.
My raft consisted of John, me, Alexis, and her parents.  I was at the back left by myself (which I realized was the kiddy seat once I looked over at the twins at the back of their raft).  Our guide had a camera strapped to his helmet, and it became evident rather quickly that he was a total show-off and intended to make as much use of the helmet as possible.  Within our first run Alexis's step-mom had fallen out.  On the next run, she fell out again, along with Alexis.  On our third go-round, the guide flipped himself out of the raft.  I believe it was our fourth trip when the guide informed us we were going "surfing" in a hole.  We managed to stay afloat for a good stretch, but pretty soon the raft was filled up with water and starting to capsize.  We all rushed to one side of the boat at the guide's command, which meant that the other side immediately filled up with water and the raft flipped.

Falling out of a raft in the middle of a class 4 rapid isn't my idea of fun.  It's incredibly disorienting, especially if, like me, you end up underneath the raft.  After feeling two bodies fall on me, I struggled to the surface, only to find the raft on top of me.  Once I popped up into an air pocket and could see, I calmed down a little, pushed out from under the raft, and tried to swim for shore.  I had swallowed a lot of water (no doubt from screaming like a mad woman as the raft flipped) and the current was way too strong for the likes of me.  Fortunately John was swimming nearby and managed to pull me to shore.  Ugh.

A few minutes later, a very happy director ordered us all back into the water, so that we could climb out of the water again, this time smiling and waving and saying how much fun it all was.  "Is the river made of cheese?" Alexis asked.  "Melted cheese!" John answered.  All I could think about were the eight ways I'd like to kill our guide.  And how badly my mascara was running, natch.

"Hey - no monkeying around!  Don't you know we're shooting a reality show, kid!"
We got home and immediately resumed filming.  Fortunately I was a very minor character in this whole thing, so aside from a scene of John and I sitting on the porch with Jack, I wasn't on camera.  They filmed the twins swimming at some point, as well as Mike and Alexis "choosing" our vacation home.  We wrapped in time to put Jack to bed and eat dinner.  I slept like a baby that night.

The next morning the girls got to go to the local farmer's market.  This was probably my favorite scene of the whole thing.  It didn't feel nearly as contrived, and I also wasn't thinking about Jack the whole time.  There was what I can only imagine will be a hideously unflattering shot of me eating a whoopie pie, which fortunately really was delicious so I didn't have to fake it.  The farmers at the market were great sports about the whole thing, and we only filmed for an hour or so.

Yummy produce at the market

I die
After that I went home for Jack's nap while everyone else went to a wine and art festival.  I got three whole hours to myself, which was lovely, and actually got some editing in.  After that we went straight to an outdoor bar on the lake.  They filmed us flopping around on the lawn, then eating at the bar.

Jackie and the Whale
The last scene of the day was supposed to be us arriving at the bar in a pontoon boat, but unfortunately they didn't have a baby life preserver, so we stayed ashore.  Then the producer kindly offered to watch Jack so John and I could go on the same boat as the crew.  The weather was perfect, it was close to sunset, and Jack was in the safe hands of someone else for a few minutes.  As we got off the boat, the man they'd randomly hired to captain it said to me and John, "So are you guys models or something?"
John and I looked at each other.  "No, we just couldn't go on the boat because we have our son here."
The man nodded.  "So they hired you because you have a kid?"
"No," I said, "we are actually friends with these people."
I'm still not sure the man was convinced.  I suppose I should be flattered.  It was probably the only time in my life I'll be mistaken for a model!

The cameraman said we staged this scene, but I maintain that Alexis and I really are that wholesome.
The next morning was September 11th, and Mike had already told the producers we wanted the morning to ourselves.  We went to the lake and Alexis's dad said a prayer, and then we observed a moment of silence during the time of first impact.  It was an emotional time and I think we were all really glad the crew wasn't there.

Jack explores the woods.
Afterward, Jack insisted on getting in the lake, so John and I finally broke down and let him loose (sort of - he didn't go in past his belly).  He loved every moment of it, until we had to yank him away so we could get home for the next scene.

Jack tests out the water...

"I'm the king of the world!"

We were supposed to be filming more of our arrival scene, but the weather was good so the crew decided to film us hiking to a waterfall.

A thirty second break in filming
That went pretty quickly, but unfortunately it was nearly one by the time we got home.  Jack had a hard time falling asleep, and I'm not sure what woke him up half an hour later (the crew, people walking upstairs, the fact that the thermostat was set to 66 and it was absolutely freezing in his room), but the poor guy had finally had enough.  Thus ensued the worst meltdown in Jack history (far worse than the popsicle, even).  We had to remove him from the premises because the crew was shooting interviews, so John and I took him for a walk.  He finally calmed down about 45 minutes later.  Yeesh.

I guess I can't blame the poor kid for losing his mind.
By that point, I'd had enough too.  I tried to maintain my sanity when we had to do four takes of John, Jack, and I "discovering" our room and marveling at the view.  It wasn't even the room we stayed in.  Three more hours of interviews later, the director finally called it a day (it was almost nine pm).
And thus ended my brief television career.  All I can say is, "Snooki: Respect."

Aaaaand I'm done.
As the crew put away their equipment, the sound guy started talking to me about writing, and I realized that I was actually kind of sad the whole thing was over.  This always happens to me on group vacations - the cattle drive, our riding trip in Ireland, Israel; as exhausting as the whole experience had been, it's hard to say goodbye to a group of people you've spent so many hours with, knowing you'll probably never see most of them again.

Hanging in a giant chair, as you do.
The hardest part was saying goodbye to Mike and Alexis.  Jack is absolutely obsessed with Mike - every morning, first thing, we heard "Mike!"  Every time Mike walked into a room: "Mike!"  Every time Mike left a room: "Mike!"  You get the idea.
And the truth is, John and I are just as attached to Uncle Mike and Auntie Cupcakes as Jack is.  We'll probably see them a couple more times before they leave for Italy, but it was just a preview of what the real goodbye is going to be like.  I have to admit there were moments where I wondered how in the heck Mike had gotten us all into something so out of our comfort zones, but in the end, I'm really glad he did it.  It definitely was a vacation we'll never forget.

Or, as Mike put it, "We had a real gouda time."


Sarah said...

Sooo good! I love your captions. They all cracked me up - as did the Snookie line and "I no like." You're on fire today, woman!

Shauna said...

'Snookie:Respect' had be laughing out loud so hard!! You're def on fire today!! What a crazy experience! I don't think I could handle cameras on me. I can't wait to see it!

Anonymous said...

Jack hugging inanimate objects. Brilliant.