You Did What with a Toothpick?

“I saw there was a food festival in Flemington,” Babs, my mom, said on Sunday morning.

It was 10:30am and we were standing in my living room, the only two people in New Jersey who hadn’t escaped ‘down the shore’ (as we Jerseyians say) for the weekend. We were searching for something to do besides go to the movies. Again.

“I can only find times for 2015,” I groaned, looking at my phone. “And they say 4pm! Who starts a food festival at 4pm on a Sunday in August?”

After another five minutes of fruitlessly browsing NJ.com and Facebook, I looked at Babs.

“I feel like I want to see something I’ve never seen before.”

I said it facetiously, figuring I’d settle for some roadside tomatoes and a latte. We’d lived in New Jersey my whole life, a.k.a. 34 29 years. There wasn’t much we hadn’t seen.

This seems as good a time as any to remind you of the time we went to the theatrical rendition of 50 Shades of Grey.

“Well, there’s a toothpick sculpture exhibit in Morristown,” Babs said casually.

I put down my phone and stared at her, mouth agape.



“Oh my god.”

And just like that, our mother-daughter day went from mundane to magical.

All of this unexpected splendor got me thinking.

I’d applied for -and gotten accepted to- a Masters Program that started on Tuesday. On top of a full-time job, the syllabi for my first two classes seemed daunting. In fact, over the past two months, I’d spent more than a few days doing activities with what one could only call dutiful merriment. All things I had been looking forward to initially…

And yet.

Why does making plans two, four, seven months out always sound so shiny and promising, yet the closer they come, the more we say, “What the f&*@ was I thinking?”

Team-building exercises involving dried spaghetti: perfect example.

I wondered if Stan Munro, the toothpick maestro himself, ever got halfway through a project only to think, “Well, this was a colossal waste of time.”

What, really, made the difference between, “This is just a stack of toothpicks” and, “Holy sh*t, this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before”?

Sure, sure, sure. We all know about the power of positivity and points of view and pots of gold at the end of the 9-to-5 rainbow.

But what actually makes us choose the straight and narrow versus the winding road, stripes versus polka dots, coffee versus more coffee? And how can you know before you click ‘submit’ that you won’t spend hours, weeks, months or years second-guessing your decision?

Do you think this was Stan’s Plan A?

Have you ever set a goal and regretted it? Not regretted it? Pretended it never happened?

P.S. – If you’re in the area, you can see the toothpick extravaganza for yourself at the Morris Museum through August 31st! (Who loves you?)



30 thoughts on “You Did What with a Toothpick?”

  1. I’m going to have to check this out under the category of things I’ve never seen before. I’m only fifteen minutes away. Thank you..:)

  2. I think a Toothpick sculpture exhibit is awesome. And about regretted goals…I regret ever deciding that I would fold fitted sheets like Babs. It’s been years, and it is just not happening.

      1. Thanks for the compliment on the pic. The nice thing about selfies is that you can take 200 and throw 199 away.
        I was thinking instead of Elmer’s glue, I would use scissors.

  3. Cool! Speaking of toothpicks…back when I was around 7 years old, my brothers built a giant fort made out of Popsicle sticks. My dad stored it on the floor of our attic. My regret? The moment I decided to let my older brother launch me across the attic so I could land square on the fence built around the fort.

  4. The one question you didn’t answer: Were the toothpicks used or clean before becoming building materials. Inquiring minds want to know.

    The goals I haven’t met are all still possible. Even marrying Paul McCartney.

          1. I know. I was 7 when he went on Ed Sullivan. He was 2? That’s statutory rape where we come from! I couldn’t figure out a way to respond cleverly to Peg, though. A missed opportunity!

            1. I meant we, you and I, are least from the same century as him, compared to his former woman/child wife. C’mon, Elyse, I know you’re still a hot, young surfer babe!

    1. Great question. I’m sure soggy toothpicks are more pliable, after all.

      But would you wear an engagement ring made out of toothpicks? (As I just mentioned to Darla, I’ve only just now started to consider the dangers of Stan’s line of work…)

      1. I have to wonder about someone who would invest the time to work on such a model. Years ago, I saw a model of the Taj Mahal made of tin foil in one of the Smithsonian museums. The two artists who were with me thought it awesome. Me, I couldn’t stop laughing thinking of the guy’s wife on the phone to her sister: “Madge, Wilbur’s out in the garage with the tin foil again ….” Here, it would be “Mildred, Homer is out in the garage with the toothpicks again…”

  5. I know what you mean, but it’s not just us – it’s real science. Inertia: a property of matter by which something that is not moving remains still and something that is moving goes at the same speed and in the same direction until another thing or force affects it.

    Whenever I get to whatever mountain it seemed like a good idea to climb a few months ago, inertia makes me long to stay sitting on my couch eating Cheetos and watching TV.

    Good luck on the masters program – you’ll be great!

    1. Thanks, Peggles! I’m trying to keep in mind what a former boss once said: “If I want something to get done, I give it to the person who already has 100 things on her to do list (i.e., you).”

      Of course, I don’t think she ever realized that items 1-99 were “just try to look busy while you sneak another orange soda from the vending machine.”

    1. I was thinking the same thing, Susie! I just talked to another person at work yesterday who prefaced her career background with, “This is going to sound all over the place.”

  6. When I see a toothpick, I think “cowboy.”
    I don’t even want to know what that’s all about.
    *googles house-call therapist*

    Enjoy school! Remember…no cropped tops or bum-hugging jeans.
    *she writes super sarcastically after reading the umpteenth Facebook post on appropriate clothes to wear while attending school*

  7. There were days that the only way I got through my PhD program (while working and mothering a very young child) was to remind myself, “I chose to do this. I chose to do this. I chose to do this.” I think it helped. Hard to remember. I’ve blocked a lot of those memories as part of my PTSD coping mechanism. May The Force be with you!

    1. Thanks, Lorna! I don’t know if it’s refreshing or disturbing to see that some things never change, in that I spend more time stressing out about an assignment than actually doing it (like 20x more)…

  8. I hesitate to answer your question, because the only thing I regret in my whole life (aside from selling my childhood collection of Star Wars toys) was going to grad school. But truthfully, I probably wouldn’t regret it as much had I not borrowed a mortgage amount of debt to complete it. The education itself was cool. But being impoverished until I’m dead? Not so much.

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