All posts by Jennifer Odom

Nana’s Wisteria Cologne


by Jennifer Odom


Beautiful lavender wisteria vines. March bloomers

Nana handed me the bottle with its scant  leftovers of eau de cologne from her younger, fancier life. I took a sniff.  Wisteria! I caressed the chipped label with its lavender grape-like flowers. I was only ten, but this container was an antique, and inside it was my first blessed encounter with the sweet fragrance of  wisteria. In fact, it smelled so delicious, I feared it would run out, so I treasured the bottle, unused, for years until its few precious drops  grew dark and gummy from evaporation.

I’ll never forget the real wisteria vine, either, that grew up the trunk of Nana’s pine tree. Its flowers were so high I could hardly see them at the top, and of course couldn’t smell them. I wanted a vine like that, too, with lavender petals falling on my yard.

So I asked my daddy.

“Oh, no,” he said. “Not a wisteria vine. That thing can choke a tree.”

He wasn’t exaggerating. The vine can run wild if left unchecked, and is hard to destroy if that happens.

Disheartened, I continued to harbor the thought that one day I’d own one.

My husband, an inveterate vine-hater, has also discouraged the idea. I admit,  the vine does need  just the place to flourish, and it isn’t my yard. So I hold off from actually gathering seeds or purchasing a vine.

Though the vine is unruly, some people do have a knack for keeping it under control. Wisteria will only climb to the height of its trellis or tree. It can be trimmed and cultivated…away from trees.

I especially appreciate the people who do make the effort.

And this year, 2018, has been an especially good year for wisteria, maybe because of all the cold weather.

Even after wisteria’s short blooming period has expired, its old blooms will shed a beautiful purple carpet beneath the vine.

At this time of year, whenever I spot a nice wisteria growing along the roadways I’m sure to point it out.

The wisteria bloom is beautiful on the vine but does not work in a vase.

Sometimes I’ll stop the car along an undeveloped woodland and pick a bloom to lay across my console. Of course, it falls right to pieces and makes a mess. Even in a vase the bloom slumps and falls apart. Yet it’s worth my trouble just to inhale a few minutes worth of that heavenly scent in the car.

Thank you, Nana, for that little antique bottle with its precious drops of wisteria cologne. I have no idea where it disappeared to, and I’ve never found a good wisteria cologne since, but I’ll never forget it.

I can truly say, I am thankful that God created the beautiful wisteria vine, and if you see me picking a flower out by the road or sniffing around at your wisteria trellis, well, sorry. I just couldn’t help myself.

Learn more about wisteria and types that might not be so fragrant, but are Florida natives and aren’t so invasive:


Encounter at the Mall by Jennifer Odom

Janet checked the time on her iPhone again, re-crossed her legs and yanked at her skirt. The preacher would have to run overtime today. It was only the toy store’s biggest-ever Halloween sale.  She needed to beat the crowds, grab up some candy, make sure the kids got the very best costumes, and get out of the store with a minimum of fuss and time–all before lunch when her two good friends and their kids would arrive at the house to make those cute ghost-cookies featured in Southern Woman Magazine.

Another glance at her phone.

She also needed to string up a few decorations before the company arrived. Kate, her twelve-year-old could help her with that.

Every second counted or they’d miss the doors opening.

At her side, five-year-old Kevin, oblivious to her jaded nerves, sat calmly, studying the old masters’ paintings in Janet’s Bible. Kate, on his other side, sat in rapt attention, soaking in the preacher’s words, something about loving what the Lord loves and hating what the Lord hates.

Janet checked the time again barely resisting the urge to grab the Bible out of Kevin’s hands and drop it in her purse so they’d be ready to exit after the dismissal prayer.

Minutes later, after dragging both kids to the car, Janet snapped Kevin into his car seat and leaped in behind the wheel. She pulled out of the lot and onto the boulevard.

“Mom, can you toss me that calendar from the front seat, please?” Kate said.

Janet passed it over the seat. “What’s up with the calendar?”


“Let me see, let me see,” Kevin said.

“Quit snatching. You’ll tear it up,” his sister snapped.

Janet eyed Kate in the rear-view mirror. “Calm down, you guys. What kind of homework?”

“We have to pick a holiday and tell why it’s meaningful to us.”

Kevin bounced up and down. “Pick Christmas, pick Christmas!”

Kate frowned and leaned away from her brother. “Quit yelling. Everybody’s picking that one.” She flipped through the pages. “Let’s pick something different.” When she reached May she held the calendar over the front seat. “What’s Ramadan? I’ve never heard of it.”

Janet gave it a dismissive wave of the hand. “Muslim holiday. We’re Christian, so it’s not our holiday.”

Kate took the calendar back and turned the page. “Oh, yeah, here’s Canada Day.” She chuckled. “Well, that’s not our holiday.”

“Why not?” Kevin asked.

“We’re Americans, silly. Our Independence Day is July 4th.”

Kevin shifted his attention to the cars on the boulevard.

“Mom,” Kate said, “What about this? Why don’t we ever celebrate Columbus Day? That’s ours, for sure.”

Kevin turned back to the calendar. “Columbus Day? What’s that about?”

“When Columbus discovered North America,” Kate said.

Mom eyed her in the mirror. “You’re right. Maybe this year we can celebrate it more. What’s the date?”

“October. Already past.” Kate held the page in front of her brother and pointed to the bottom. “Oooooh, Kevinnnnnn, Halloween.” She dropped the calendar, made claws out of her hands and waggled them in Kevin’s face. “Booooo.”

“Okay, guys,” Janet pulled into a parking place at the toy  store and threw the car into park. “We’re here. Let’s make this quick. Drop your stuff on the seat. Chop, chop, Kate, loosen Kevin’s seatbelt. Everybody out of the car.”

Standing on the asphalt, Kevin looked up at Mom. “What’s Halloween stand for?”

Kate postured like a zombie with her arms out, and put on a creepy voice as she stepped toward him. “You already know. We do it every year. It’s all ghoooosts and zooooombies, little boy.”

“Quit it,” Kevin whined, backing away.

“Enough of this,” Janet said, pushing Kate’s arms down. “Come on inside and let’s tend to business.”

Inside, at the Halloween costume racks, Kate waggled a witches mask in Kevin’s face. She cackled until he hid behind Janet again.

He crossed his arms. “I don’t like this.”

“Oh, come on,” Janet said, “here’s Spiderman and Superman. They’re not scary.”

He stomped his foot. “I don’t like ‘em.”

“Just think of all the caaandy you get,” Kate said.

After a wasted half hour of indecision and putting up with Kevin’s dissatisfaction, Janet threw up her hands. “I thought we were going to wrap this up quick and get home. What’s got into you, Kevin? Now we’re out of time. I’m done here. Now we’ll have to go to the mall after the company leaves tonight.”

Kevin said nothing, just poked out his lip and ducked away from his sister.

Kate razzed him as they passed through the automatic doors. “Kevin is a baaaby.”

Janet glanced at Kevin’s face. “That’s enough, Kate. Lay off your brother.”

After dark, exhausted from cookie-making and company, Janet drove into the mall parking lot near the main entrance. The kids piled out of the back seat. Glittering Halloween decorations festooned the inside of the huge glass windows.

“Stay close,” she said. “The mall closes in forty five minutes. Don’t leave my….”

“Look.” Kevin interrupted, pointing to the right side of the entranceway.

Before she could grab his hand, he darted across the roadway, barely missing a car.

“Kevin!” Janet shrieked, pausing for the car to pass before she raced after him. Kate on her heels. “Wait.”

What had gotten into her child? He never acted like this.

Kevin darted to the right side of the entry doors, and headed straight toward an empty bench. He stopped at the far end and reached up with both arms.

Janet’s jaw dropped as she slowed her pace. What was he doing?

Kate frowned. “Mom? What’s happening?”

“I don’t know.” Janet marched the rest of the way across the sidewalk to Kevin and gripped his upper arm, twirling him around. “What is going on? You nearly got yourself killed just now. Never ever pull a stunt like that again.” She paused, trying to compute what had just occurred. “Now, come on, and this time don’t leave my side,” she said, tugging him toward the automatic glass doors.

Kate tapped her brother’s shoulder. “Hey. What weirdism were you doing back there, Kevin? Hugging a ghost?”

Kevin frowned back. “But it was Jesus.”

Both Janet and Kate stopped in their tracks. They looked at each other.

Janet checked the bench again and turned back at her son. “Kevin.” She pointed at the bench. “Look over there. There is no one, NO ONE on that bench. It’s empty.”

“I saw Him.”

Did Kevin need a psychiatrist?

She took Kevin’s right hand and tugged him toward the mall door. She’d sort this out later. “Let’s go inside and get our costumes.”

Kate followed on the opposite side.

Kevin tried to pull away.“ I don’t want to do Halloween, Mommy. It makes Jesus sad.”

Kate sighed loudly and rolled her eyes. “Please, Kevin.”

“It’s not my holiday.”

Near the door, Janet watched the reflection of her family as they approached the glass doorway. A tall, handsome man walked beside Kevin. Always nervous about being followed, Janet whirled around. But nobody was there.

One more glance at the reflection. Gone. All she saw was her family.

The image had actually looked like Jesus. How strange. Now her imagination was playing tricks. It had to be the power of suggestion. She touched Kate’s arm and paused. “Maybe I’m crazy, honey, but did you see a man back there? On that bench? Or walking behind us just now?”

Kevin’s hand twisted in hers. “Stop that, Kevin.” His left hand reached out to his side. Now he’s holding hands with an invisible person?

As Janet turned back to Kate, her eye passed across the reflection again. There he was again–holding hands with Kevin and smiling down at him.

Are we all cracking up?

“Come on, Mom,” Kate said. “You’re not gonna pull that old ghost trick on me….”

Kevin tugged on Janet’s hand and gazed up at her with his innocent blue eyes. His other hand still held the invisible man’s. “See, it’s Jesus, Mommy.”

Another glance at the window disclosed no man in its reflection.

“Kids…” Janet pivoted toward the parking lot.

Kate shot her a confused look.

“I…Come on.” She pulled the kids toward the curb and stepped down. Whose holiday was Halloween, anyway? “Let’s…just go on home, guys. Let’s go on home.”




Heroine of Hurricane Irma-Annette D’Amore

by Jennifer Odom

It was right after Hurricane Irma that I  first met Annette D’Amore. Her friend Linda had asked her to tag along for a workday to help a total stranger. Winds had knocked over two huge oaks and they’d landed across the stranger’s house,  pretty much destroying it.

Of course she’d go!

D’Amore, 57, and disabled from an old injury, knew she could still pile moss and sticks onto the wagons while others  carted them away. D’Amore was happy to do her part.

Helping others is in her nature. Her actions remind me of the old command, Love your neighbor.

Back in 2011, when the her doctor advised D’Amore to get moving or get in a wheelchair,

she adopted three bloodhounds, all rescue pets.

Glinda, one of three bloodhouns D’Amore adopted

 Search dogs first drew D’Amore’s attention when she worked in freight for the airlines. “Police dogs came into the freight office to train, smelling around for drugs and things,” she said.

Though the three dogs were initially just for her exercise, company, and security, D’Amore later recalled a story about bloodhounds that had sniffed out bombs in Philadelphia. “Why not me? I can train dogs,” she said.  Why couldn’t she take her exercise dogs and train them to do something along the same lines, like Search and Rescue (SAR)?

D’Amore’s character trait of responding to the needs of others was what led her to discover Search and Rescue of Central Florida, (SARCF) a group in Sanford, Florida.

And it is  a wonderful organization.

According to D’Amore, the group mainly searches for  missing loved ones. That could mean children, autistic people, citizens with Alzheimer’s who are lost in the woods–but not usually criminals. SARCF “deploys in search of human subjects only, unless at the request and coordination of an official law enforcement agency. ”

Lost hikers

SARCF states that its mission is to provide “high-quality, reliable search, and rescue assistance during emergencies utilizing the most appropriate resources available and to provide applicable training and education to the public.”

“Part of the group’s mission is personal training, “D’Amore said. Members must pass tests on “navigation, man-tracking, area searches, map skills, and geological area.”

D’Amore found herself traveling two hours each way to Sanford,  to obtain this level 3 training as a field tracker with SARCF.

And then she had to find ways to overcome her handicap as she trained.

Besides the human volunteers, search and rescue dogs , (which have to be friendly and not show aggression in any way whatsoever),  must also go through extensive training, testing, and certification. With that in mind, D’Amore then prepared for level 2, the training of her bloodhounds for dog handling.

Once the National Association of Search and Rescue, NASAR, sets up a new testing site, (the Sarasota certification date got cancelled because of Hurricane Irma), D’Amore is eager for her dogs to pass their tests and gain their certification.

Annette with Glinda preparing for search

Part of their exam consists of a “live find.” A subject must hide at least a 1/2 mile away with a path of 4-5 turns. The dogs smell a “scent article,” and must not only find, but indicate that the person is the subject they are looking for when they are located.

Glinda gets the scent





Glinda finds the lost hikers

The rigorous dog testing must be repeated every two years.

Besides field searchers, like D’Amore, there are many other roles for members of SAR teams. Among them are flankers, boat operators, base and field communicators (HAM radio), and metal detection, all voluntary.

A special kind of dedication, like D’Amore’s, is needed for this kind of training and the resulting searches. Members, once certified, are on call 24-7 to serve on the SAR team.

Field tracker/dog handler supplies

When  volunteers are called out, the work is heavy, and the equipment, paid for by the volunteers themselves, is not cheap. Searchers may find themselves hip deep in water, mud, or pressing through the woods. They must wear special protective clothing, bug spray, safety glasses, hat, safety vests, and special waterproof and snake proof boots.

Dogs wear their own special vests and harnesses.

Along with a searcher’s walking stick there is a backpack loaded with of specific essentials like a 24-hour ready-pack, a thermal sleeping bag, a rain poncho, plenty of food like MREs, crackers and snacks as well as food for the dogs, and especially water.

There were many heroes in the wake of Hurricane Irma. But it was my privilege to meet this one, Annette D’Amore, a friendly volunteer, bloodhound rescuer, and Search and Rescue champion.

Annette and Winston

The world is a better place, a friendlier place, because of people like Annette who will go out of their way, at their own expense, to share love with their fellow man, even despite her own problems. Thank you, Annette. It’s an honor to know you.




Christen Mejias, Up to Her Elbows in Soap


by Jennifer Odom

Bubbles overflowed the toilet bowl. Four year old Christen Mejias and her older brother poured and mixed whatever liquid soaps and shampoos they could find.

Making beauty “potions” was a favorite pastime until her mom caught them and ran them out. “Stop flushing things down the toilet!”

The scientific experiences must have paid off, because Christen, at age 34, is now a bona-fide soap-maker.

Encouraged in that direction by her mom and dad, Robin and David Maddock, she said, “I loved doing … science experiments on my own when I was little.” When she was old enough she attended Brio Academy of Cosmetology in Connecticut, learning to do facials in a spa, work with dermatologists, handle chemicals, and prepare people for surgeries. She graduated as a Certified Esthetician and in 2008 moved to Ocala, Florida, which she loves, and where she hopes to stay.

But in the recession, unlike her IT-specialist husband, she struggled to find a job. Instead, she dedicated herself to being a stay at home mom.

Christen was shocked at the carcinogens found in her everyday cleaning products.

With her hands frequently immersed in cleaning products she was dismayed at the ingredients on their labels. “These weren’t environmentally friendly products. Surprisingly, I found that carcinogens (substances that are known to cause cancer) were in our lotions, soaps, makeup, baby shampoo, household cleaning products, and more!”

She began experimenting with safe kitchen-cleaner formulas and working with essential oils. Everything had to be environmentally friendly as it went down the drain.

She grew “passionate” about natural ingredients and skincare. “I set out on a mission to find a healthier option…to learn more.”

That’s when she stumbled across bar-soap making. She tested different formulas and ingredients and came across the cold-process of making soap where not a lot of heat is used. “The soap naturally makes heat on its own as you combine the oils and sodium hydroxide.”

“Science always fascinated me growing up.” She grins. “And this is all science. It’s chemistry.”

A few of Christen’s samples

“Making soap is not that simple. It’s taken me years of research and experimenting, testing, and studying to come up with this formula, and I ended up with a recipe and results, the kind of bar I liked.”

“My husband’s probably tried every girly-smelling soap. He loves that I love what I do, and I’m blessed he’s supportive.”

At her home-studio, each bar is made with 100% pure essential oils and/or high quality, phthalate-free fragrance oils.”(It) isn’t just dumped into the mold. Each loaf is designed and sketched before it’s handcrafted into small batches.”

Eventually she got the courage to start selling online. With her husband’s technical help she began selling through Etsy. In 2011 someone suggested she sell her soaps at the Ocala Farmer’s Market. So she brought her product, set up shop, and has been there almost every Saturday since.

Christen Mejias and her father tend store at the Ocala Farmer’s Market

Today she franchises out with several private labels--her soaps with their name wrapped around it.  She has a private label, a wholesale account, and also sells at Earth Fare Supermarket.

“One day when the kids (who absolutely do not play in the toilet) are bigger, I’m hoping to have a storefront.”

In the meantime, she continues refining her Naturally Pure products of lip butters, lotions, essential oils, soaps, and deodorant.

A variety of wonderful scents

As her mother once said, “I should have known all those years ago, when you were a little girl…that you would grow up to make something beautiful.”

Find Christen’s  products online at

Marion County Master Gardeners serve at Epcot

If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Marion County Extension Office at 352-671-8413. The 2017 Master Gardener Orientation will be held May 24th, with master gardener interviews beginning only a few weeks later.

Click the link below for full article.

Gaynelle Lockamy Hoover, Going Strong at 90


by Jennifer Odom

In elementary school (1963) I knew her as Mrs. Lockamy, the pretty secretary up in the principal’s office.

Gaynelle in 1960s

Now I know her as Gaynelle Hoover. 90 years old and twice widowed, she remains sharp as a tack. More than half a century later, she laughingly recalls names and memories of students that came in and out of the office–especially the “frequent flyers.”

At that time, one of her duties as a new secretary was to witness paddlings. “It like to have killed me,” she said about the first one. She informed the principal, “I’m sorry I can’t watch another paddling. You’ll have to get another witness.” He never bothered her again.

Back in 1952 she’d moved with her husband (Layton Lockamy) from Dunnellon where he’d worked as a railroad telegrapher.

Signs from the station and Mr. Lockamy’s railway office

He’d been promoted to the Reddick station as an agent.

Mr. Lockamy at work as station agent  in 1971

“A genius,” Gaynelle calls him. He was “very organized,” an inventor of his own electric ice cream churn and motorized pencil sharpeners for use down at the station before their patents were developed. Mr. Lockamy remained agent of the Reddick station until he died in 1977. Soon after, the rail operations ceased.

Gaynelle recalls how in 1979 the station itself  was divided into five pieces and relocated

to nearby Boardman, Florida by the P.K. Hunt  moving company.

In the summer, Gaynelle’s home, with its large yard,  takes her about three hours to mow  on her riding mower. That’s certainly not all she does. Lately she’s been rescreening the back door, installing hand-grips, tiling, painting, and doing carpentry work.

Martha Cromwell, her daughter, says, “My mother is an amazing woman…and is fiercely independent. As long as she stays off ladders, horses (her great-great-great grandmother died at 90 by being thrown from a horse) and wears a mask when she mows her yard, I truly believe she will be going strong at 100.”

The day before I visited Gaynelle she’d painted her front steps and sidewalk with concrete paint.

Gaynelle cut, painted, and set the post and banister by herself.

She proudly informed me I was the first person to stand on her newly painted steps. Beside them she’d installed a new copper-topped 4×4 post set in concrete and a beautifully painted black banister.

Using a little yellow miter box in her husband’s old workshop she sawed the wood.  Before our visit ended, she showed me where she’d neatly replaced some complicated framing around a front porch post. Very impressive.

Under her power lines on the east side, her crepe myrtle trees had grown a little tall. On the ground beside the trash can sat a pile of neatly stacked limbs where she’d trimmed them down to size. The sticks were stripped of all the side branches, and so amazingly tidy I asked her if she was getting ready to make a craft out of them, like maybe a basket. No, they were simply cut to fit in a trash bag so the garbage man would pick them up.

Gaynelle plays organ, piano, clarinet, and saxophone. Her second husband, Mr. Hoover was a professional musician, and they’d play music together every day, as well as entertain.

And she loves to sing. Her daughter says she “has the most beautiful singing voice I have ever heard.” On Sundays Gaynelle makes the rounds to three different churches just to participate in their choirs.

On library days you might find her at the public library. She’s currently reading up on the battle of Chickamauga where her grandfather fought. A fountain of historical knowledge she’s active in four historical organizations.

So what is the secret to her longevity and spry health? First, she said, steering clear of undue credit, “It’s the genes in my family.” But then there’s the importance of exercise (she mentioned this twice )  and avoidance of sugar. Almost as an afterthought she added we should also “think happy thoughts.”

And, come to think of it, all Gaynelle’s spoken thoughts were positive, too.

“I am so proud to be her daughter,” Cromwell confided, “ and hope to grow to be more like her! My favorite time of the day is in the evening when she calls me up and says, ‘Guess what I did today!’ It’s always something different, creative or amazing.”

It’s hard to keep up with Gaynelle Hoover, this busy lady so full of life and with so many interests. But one thing is for certain, she’s well loved by friends and family and will always hold a dear place in the hearts of the people of Reddick, her special town.

Philippians 4: 8 (KJV)

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Randy Harper, Blind Woodworker

by Jennifer Odom


Leaning over his desk at the car dealership, Randy, the service manager, brought the invoice closer to his face. This was crazy. What was going on with his vision? It couldn’t be the lighting. Every bulb in the department was lit up. Bright as day. Yet he could hardly see out of that one eye.

Twenty-two years old was too young for this nonsense. Probably just needed to drink more water.

That was Friday. By the next Wednesday when his dad drove him over to the eye doctor, Randy’s eyesight was shutting off in the other eye, too.


The doctor’s face was grim. “I’m sorry. You’ve got Leber’s disease.”

An online resource, Web MD describes the disease as “mainly characterized by bilateral, painless sub-acute loss of central vision during young adult life. In most cases, symptoms begin with one eye first, followed a few weeks later by visual failure in the other eye…”

And just that quick, the disease robbed Randy of his vision and left him legally blind–and reeling.


Despite the scalding diagnosis, Randy, now 53, still retains a small amount of peripheral vision. And if need be, he can bring an object a few inches from his eyes and make it out using a strong magnifying glass.

What is most remarkable is that Randy is able to do artistic woodworking, and displays a faith that sustains him. But it wasn’t always that way.

Back in high school, Randy, a self-proclaimed neat-freak, signed up for a shop class. After high school, before he took the car dealership job, he worked as a furniture hauler. Later on, having those needed skills would remind Randy of divine guidance already at work.

But disappointment weighed him down. According to Randy, the most devastating thing for him was the lack of self-sufficiency and a constant dependence on others to find a ride.

With the help of his dad, a Baptist minister, Randy began to sell auto parts to small garages. The schedule was sporadic. Calling on all his accounts took only three days every other week. Frustration hammered him each time a driver quit. Nobody wanted a part-time job.

Four years into his blindness, Randy’s dad died.

Now what could Randy do? He searched for ideas.

Blind Services sent him to massage school in Gainesville where he carpooled with a fellow student from Belleview. This lasted for a little while.

Even with that, Randy eventually fell away from his childhood faith and turned to drugs and alcohol. One thing led to another and he ended up in prison.


“My faith was always there,” he said, “but prison’s where I had time to reflect. I spent my time working out and listening to Christian radio on my ear buds.”

Randy’s faith grew while incarcerated. The prison allowed him to do work-release for a year.

After prison, he used the small bit of capital he had gained to purchase lumber. His old high school carpentry skills came into play while he experimented and made a batch of wooden crosses.

Randy made crosses like these.

In the shop he needed those neat-freak skills. “If I hadn’t had those in place, I wouldn’t be able to find anything. I always know where everything is, and if anything is missing.”


Encouragement flooded in. Just before Mother’s Day in 2014, 40 of his 100 crosses sold at a local farmer’s market. Now he had a little more capital to work with.

On a whim, a friend dropped off a piece of live edge wood (lumber that retains part of its bark) and said, “See what you can do with it.”

Randy’s first stood was simple like this.

That’s just what Randy did. He formed it into a small simple stool.

Right away it sold. Relatives started requesting items, custom items, and the work piled up. This was Randy’s turning point.

He discovered the Ocala Farmer’s Market and brought his creations there. Customers such as Joyce Baron noticed his talent, paid attention, and made their own  requests. And they  keep coming back for more. She’s already bought three pieces from Randy, and two of those are custom made. “He is one of the nicest men I have ever met and one of the most caring. He’s very talented.

“What I wanted was a cat box,” she said.

Randy built this kitty litter cabinet for Joyce.

All she had to do was explain it and he built it. “It’s rather large, 40 inches tall, and off the floor with feet so you can clean underneath. It looks like a cabinet and you can’t tell it’s a kitty litter box. If you look at it from the front it looks like it has two doors. The workmanship is excellent.”

If you dream it he can make it. This is a display rack, perhaps for a store.

Just about every week you can find Randy at the Ocala Farmer’s Market. Just hunt for the special one-of-a-kind furniture pieces.

Before each event, Randy locates a driver and then packs as much furniture into the back of his pickup truck as it will hold. They bring it down to the Ocala Farmer’s Market or other area venues. All the while Randy reminds himself that the amazing amount he’s got wedged in the back of the truck is all due to those early furniture-hauling skills.

With several friends in the tree and sawmill business, Randy has a steady source of unusual logs. Part of the allure for his custom work is because of the unique variety and types of woods.

Woods the reader may have never seen before.

Back at his shop Randy led me around to view the unique, (and some well-known), woods in his creations.

The shop was a wood-lover’s paradise filled with items made of holly, several varieties of sweet gum, chinaberry, walnut, wild cherry, sycamore, hickory, and camphor. He pointed out the unique grains and the much sought after spaltings, or natural lines caused by fungi that follow the grain and develop after the log sits awhile, but before the lumber is cut.

Three years of creating custom benches, tables, chests, gun safes, and kitchen isles have only scratched the imaginative surface for Randy, leaving him with a list of future ideas he’d like to try.

Strong in his faith now, on Sundays you can find Randy at the Church of Hope in Ocala.

Randy’s life is the perfect example of the little things, God’s gifts that we might not notice, that prepare us for life. It demonstrates the strength we can find when life throws us a curve we wouldn’t have chosen.

Phillipians 4:13, his favorite Bible verse, sums it up:

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

So if you’re down at the Ocala Farmer’s Market, or some other local venue, keep your eyes open for the man with the creative wood furniture. You never know what you might find in Randy’s collection. And if you have an idea, be sure to let him know. He’ll most likely be able to craft it for you.

Sylvia Swain, Chicken-sitter


by Jennifer Odom

She dialed every last hardware store in town. “It can’t be done,” they said. Every single one of them.

Well, Sylvia Swain doesn’t take no from her kindergarteners, and she sure wasn’t taking it from these guys. After all, this was life or death for Little Black, her pet hen.

Little Black broods.

It all started when her broody hen, Little Black wanted to hatch eggs and raise chicks. Broody chickens will sit on a nest with or without eggs. They’ll quit eating and laying eggs. And Little Black had already spent 21 days on a nest of infertile eggs. No chicks yet, but she wasn’t getting up or giving up. She’d hatch those eggs if killed her.

But Little Black’s health was declining. Her comb, that floppy thing on top of her head, which under healthy conditions would be bright red, was now a pale pink.

Time and again Sylvia lifted Little Black off her nest and tossed her in with the other chickens,

hoping to break her broodiness so she’d hunt for food, forget the nest, and get back to normal. But after a few half-hearted pecks around the henhouse, Little Black headed straight back to her nest and plopped herself down.

New Idea

Sylvia tried every trick she could think of to get the chicken off her nest. Then finally, a fresh idea struck. Buy some fertile eggs! She contacted a friend who brought her four. After distracting Little Black she replaced the old eggs with the fertile ones. That outta work.

But 21 days later, same story, no chicks. Scrawnier now than Miss Sylvia had ever hoped to see, Little Black showed no signs of giving up on her nest. Sylvia prayed for ideas.

Desperate situations called for desperate times. If Sylvia didn’t figure this out, the chicken was going to die. And she couldn’t allow that to happen, not on her watch.

Even Better Idea

That’s when she picked up the phone and started placing those calls. Mid-summer is hot, a hard time to find chicks in a hardware store. Ring after ring, explanation after explanation, nobody had baby chicks on hand, especially chicks that were less than a week old. Everybody told her the same thing, “You can’t do it, it won’t work.”

Well, by golly, she’d make her plan work. At least she’d give it her best. All she needed was four of the fuzzy little hatchlings.

The final listing was an out-of-town number. She dialed anyway, and–voila! They had her chicks. “Are you really really sure?” she asked. “These chicks have to be less than a week old or the hen will know they aren’t hers and peck them to death.”

They were sure. So Sylvia hopped in the car and raced out of town for the prize chicks. Her plan had to work.

Back at the Farm

Back at her farm with the chicks in hand, step one was complete. Step two was a little more complicated.

That night, while all the neighbors were asleep in bed and Sylvia’s other chickens roosted on their perch, she stepped out the back door, adjusted her eyes to pale light of the moon, and crept carefully across the grass to the henhouse. Her dogs, too lazy to rise, remained where they were. Crickets chirped from the tall weeds. An owl hooted from a field nearby. But not one peep came from the chick held against the warmth of her side.

This next part, in the pen, was tricky, and needed to be done just right, or Little Black would reject the chick.

The chicken-wire door creaked its muffled creak and she stepped in to the pen, laden with the heavy must of chicken poo and soil, and closed the latch behind her.

In the Hen House

It was impossible in the dark to tell if the hen noticed her or not, but Little Black didn’t stir. Sylvia knelt in the straw and waited behind the hen.

Finally, when Sylvia felt the time was right, she reached under the hen, pulled out an egg, and slid the chick underneath. The hen turned, eyed the chick, and pecked.

Uh oh. Disappointed, Sylvia retrieved the chick.

This didn’t mean failure, though. Not yet. She’d push it further underneath the next time. Once again she cradled the chick and waited. Little Black settled down. For the second time, Sylvia slid the hatchling under the hen’s warm feathers. She let go.

The Plan Works

The hen shifted, chortled, and settled again.

Ahh. It seemed to be working now.

With the hen content, a satisfied Sylvia returned to the house, praying for a continued miracle, and fetched the second chick.

With long waits in between chicks, the process took most of the night. One chick at a time.

By morning, though, a very weary Sylvia could see that Little Black was doing just fine, and speaking to her four new chicks. She was even off her nest, a proud mama, leading her chicks to the little bits of food that Sylvia had placed inside the pen.

Success at last. A night well spent. Sylvia latched the gate and headed into the house to catch a few well-deserved winks.

The chicks are grown now, and miraculously, even turned out the same color as their mama.

Don’t ever tell Miss Sylvia the chicken-sitter she can’t do a thing. That’s not in her vocabulary.

In all thy ways acknowledge Him (the Lord), and He shall direct thy paths.  Proverbs 3:6