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The Turning of the Key


Several years ago, I wrote a post titled “Moving On,” about my parents moving from our childhood home to a continuing care community. It was a wonderful move for many reasons, and at the time I wrote that in spite of the move being bittersweet, I was grateful for the fact that my parents were leaving our childhood home for a better life for them.

Little did I know that in just a few short years, we’d lose our mom to the devastating diagnosis of cancer. But we were so glad that our dad had the comfort and support of so many kind people who surrounded him in his relatively new community. We were aware that Dad was having a very rough time without his bride of so many years. And when he had a heart attack earlier this year, we knew the broken heart was literal. What we didn’t expect – not that you can ever expect these things – was that we’d lose Dad, too, just a little over a year after losing Mom.

The loss of both of our parents in such a short period of time has been beyond devastating for both me and my sister. They may have been considered old in years by some, but they were active, vibrant, and youthful, and it’s still hard for all of us to wrap our heads around the fact that they’re both gone.

And then came the emptying out of their home. Every piece of furniture, every article of clothing, every dish, every memory from our childhood needed to be gone through and assigned a category: give away, throw away, donate, or hold onto for dear life. In spite of my current mindset of having to declutter my life, there was no way I was going to leave so much of my parents and their lives to others, without taking those pieces that were so meaningful to me.

Lots of tears have been shed, lots of agonizing over so many things, and full-on  meltdowns over these losses have all been experienced over the past few weeks. And the photographs pose one of the toughest dilemmas. Albums upon albums filled with happy times and long-forgotten memories – what does one do with all those remnants of their – and our – lives?

We also didn’t have the luxury of time, for many reasons. So barely a month after losing Dad, my sister and I made a final trek to our parents’ home to empty out everything that had made it their home. At first, I made it through by attempting to be dispassionate – to distance myself from these “things” and not assign any emotional  value to them. I actually managed to do that with some items. But then I’d get blindsided by something unexpected, and be once again reduced to a puddle of grief.

By the fourth night, it still seemed as if there were mountains of belongings to still get through and bag. My sister and two of her friends had made a trip to start emptying things out several weeks earlier, and she needed to get back home on that fourth day after being gone and working as hard as she had. The furniture was to be picked up the next morning, when I was scheduled to leave. Only half of it had been spoken for – the rest was apparently going to be trashed, which was affecting me deeply. One of my wonderful cousins was going to oversee that part of the process. And I had no one left to ask to take more bags of things to a donation bin. We had received help and generosity from so many friends and family over the past month, how could I ask again? But if I couldn’t ask for help, what would happen to everything left? I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing out things that someone else could use. A wave of helplessness and hopelessness overcame me. I sank down on the floor, completely overwhelmed. And then, I truly believe, my parents stepped in and rescued me.

The first thing was, I suddenly realized there was no way I could leave the next day – I needed one more day in order to hold onto my sanity. So I called the airline and explained my situation. Now you all know how I feel about flying and the whole airline experience. However, the woman on the other end could hear that I was at the end of my rope and she was so compassionate and kind to me, I couldn’t believe it. She told me that they still had me in the system from the bereavement fare of the previous trip, and since this was all still part of the same event, they would NOT charge me a change fee! So I got re-booked to a flight one day later.

Next, I got a call from another amazing cousin who had come earlier to help with her wonderful sister, that she was returning with her son and a truck to take any clothing I had left to the donation bin she had gone to earlier with several other bags of stuff.  That was another lifting of the weight off my heart.

Finally, I walked into the living room to find several people gathered there. One woman had come for a different reason, but asked me about the furniture. I told her which pieces were spoken for, and which ones weren’t. She called her daughter who needed any furniture we had, and that night she and her husband and another friend got all of it out of there – and, they came back the next morning for the bed! So the extra furniture was going to someone who really needed it, where it would again have a good home.

It was tough enough watching everything my parents owned disappear. But the things that were going to help homeless or disadvantaged people, which went to family, or which went to friends, made me happy. Our parents were generous, kind people who also would have been happy to know that their things would now make others happy. Some of the sadness lifted.

All of the lamps were taken by family and friends before the next night, and there are few overhead lights there, so once the sun set, it was pretty dark. And empty, with all the furniture gone. With all the life gone. There were still a few things I needed to go through, to either take or throw out, and I found myself dawdling as I went through everything. I took pictures of the emptiness. I sat on the floor and communed with my parents. I cried again. And finally, I had no excuses left, not to leave. And I left a huge piece of my heart there as I shut the door behind me, and turned the key in the lock for the final time.


Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved



Fly the Friendly Skies

I have had many ups and downs when it comes to flying – both literally and figuratively. I recently had a few experiences with the airlines that were somewhat unusual, and I’d like to share them with you.


It seems there are no longer direct flights to New York from my little corner of the South. Lately, I’ve been taking the early-morning flight on an airborne sardine can to Charlotte, where I then transfer to a somewhat larger tin can to get to New York. This time, I flew a little later in the morning, so I went through Washington DC instead. This meant boarding a plane that actually had more seats than a bus. It was a nice change of pace.

We boarded on time, and since I had a little over an hour between flights, I was hopeful I might actually make the connecting flight, since that’s always a crap shoot. We waited on the tarmac for awhile after boarding, without any sign of motion on the part of the plane. And we waited. Finally, one of the flight attendants got on the PA. She announced that one of the seats was broken. She informed us that this was a full flight. She then morphed from friendly flight attendant to angry schoolmarm (I think she might have even wagged her finger at us), and warned us that if someone didn’t volunteer to get off the plane, we would just sit on the ground until someone did volunteer. I felt like I was back in 2nd grade. Of course, whoever did offer to get off the plane would be compensated and rewarded, and receive the eternal gratitude of everyone else on the plane. I considered it, and if I didn’t have to make a connecting flight, I might have done so. But taking non-direct flights are very tricky, and I needed to get to New York.broken.chair

Everyone just sat, looking hopefully around the plane, praying that someone who had nothing else to do would volunteer and let us leave already. Finally, a hero arose. He was sitting toward the front of the plane and, in what could have been slow motion, stood up, talked to the flight attendants for a few minutes, and then jauntily exited the plane. We all  heartily applauded our thanks, then breathed a collective sigh of relief when the doors finally closed and we rolled down the runway. The flight attendant glared at us as if we were all a bunch of naughty children.

mean_teacher_w_ruler_LargeWideMy question is, why was this our problem? Aren’t we the ones paying them hundreds of dollars to get us from one place to another in the least uncomfortable way possible, which would include intact seats? Why were we scolded and intimidated by a flight attendant for something that was clearly the airline’s problem? But that’s just one more thing being par for the course when it comes to making flying as not-fun as possible these days.

I did have one actual fun experience, however, while waiting to board the flight schumerfrom DC to New York. As I was waiting for my zone to be called, I turned and there was Senator Chuck Schumer standing next to me! At first, I didn’t want to bother him, but after one of the airport workers tried to usher him to First Class, and Senator Schumer told him he was flying Coach, I smiled and began chatting with him. What do you say to a Senator whom you greatly admire without sounding like a blithering idiot? I don’t remember everything I said, but I am fairly certain I was speaking English. And Senator Schumer smiled at me, asked me questions, and didn’t have me escorted from the airport, so all in all, I think I did OK.

No such excitement for the trip home. While I was in the airport waiting for the flight from DC back to South Carolina, I found a seat where I could relax away from all the hubbub. A man sat down two seats away from me. To my left, were about 20 empty seats. Within minutes, the rest of his very energetic, young family came bounding over. They all crowded around him and the one empty seat to his left. They kept glancing at me like I should get the hint and get up and not intrude on their family fun. Finally, his young son who was very cute and very active, started jumping up and down, and his foot landed right on top of my foot. None of the adults seemed to notice, even when I grimaced and said, “Ouch.”

water.bottledSo I caved, and got up, semi-certain that the foot contact incident had been carefully orchestrated in order to get me to move. I was hungry anyway, so I made my way over to the vendors who can legally sell you a bottle of water for $4 and a small bag of popcorn for $6. And then I found another seat. Where I could sit quietly and pray that my next flight would leave on time and wouldn’t have any broken seats.



Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved


New Naturally Nancy post: Gazpacho

If you’re a fan of gazpacho, this is a delicious recipe to try. It’s healthy and refreshing, and pretty easy to make!  Here’s the link:

Saving A Dog’s Life

This is the full text of an article I wrote for the Greenville News about getting shelter dogs trained to lower the return rate to shelters. The article was published on July 26th in the Greenville News, but due to space constraints, about half the article didn’t make it into the paper. After speaking to trainers and learning that good behavior, and stopping undesirable behaviors could be taught relatively easily and inexpensively, I wrote this article in the hopes that people ready to give up on their dogs, or thinking about adopting a shelter dog, would find this information useful. So, here is the article as originally written, with accompanying photos.



Kelly McComas with Moose at the Greenville Humane Society

Life and death. Dogs in so many animal shelters face this reality on a daily basis as they wait eagerly for their forever homes. A knowledge of basic commands such as sit, stay, no, or come could save a dog’s life. Not only because they might prevent a dog from chewing on something hazardous, or chasing after something and not returning to their owner. This knowledge could also make a dog more appealing to someone looking to adopt from a shelter. And good behavior makes it more likely that a dog won’t be returned to a shelter.


According to the ASPCA, approximately 7.6 million “companion animals” enter animal shelters every year. And approximately 2.7 million shelter animals are adopted every year.


The Greenville Humane Society, one of the largest no-kill shelters in the Southeast, opened their doors in 1937. And in May of 2011, they moved to their new location at 305 Airport Road in Greenville. According to Executive Director Kim Pitman, there was a 25% – 30% return rate at the old building. Their current return rate is now less than 5%. And they do over 5,200 adoptions in one year. They receive approximately 65% of their animals from other shelters, and approximately 35% are owner surrenders. They usually have between 125-140 animals available for adoption, with the daily cost being $10 per day per animal. Puppies are often adopted after being at GHS after only one or two days. Older dogs average between a week and a month to find their forever homes.


Pitman says the most common reasons that owners surrender their animals are: they’re moving somewhere that they can’t take their pets, they’re having a baby and don’t have time for their pet, finances, and behavioral issues. Kelly McComas, GHS Operation Manager, adds that new pet owners often don’t realize that they don’t have enough time for a pet, or that owning a pet is a lot more responsibility than they expected.


According to Pitman, the number one factor in a successful adoption is knowing as much as possible about the animal, and the prospective owner. She likens the counselors’ jobs there as matchmakers. She explained that they try to know as much as possible about the animal upon admission to the shelter – owner surrenders involve filling out a profile sheet. If it isn’t an owner surrender and they have little or no information about the dog, they bring the dog outside, off leash to the courtyard so the counselors and volunteers get a sense of the dog’s personality.



The counselors talk to potential adopters about what they’re looking for. Do they want an energetic dog? Or a lap dog? Big dog or small dog? Are they home a lot? And, if they have other pets, they are encouraged to bring them for a meet and greet. There are also bonding rooms for adopters and pets to get to know each other.


The other big thing they encourage is getting the dog trained. The Humane Society has a partnership with nearby Camp Bob Wow, where new owners get discounted training classes which can include leash behavior, socialization, and general good manners. Taking this step could make the difference between a frustrated owner and a successful adoption.


Patty Honkala is the Training Manager of Behavior Buddies at Camp Bow Wow. Her philosophy is, “Help people, help families live more harmoniously with pets. That keeps dogs out of shelters. Educate people on how their dog thinks – then they can communicate with their dog.” She emphasized that the owner must be consistent and committed to have success. People’s behavior must be modified in order to modify their dog’s behavior.


Patty Honkala with Gracie (adopted as a puppy to a great home) at Camp Bow Wow


Honkala says, “Positive reinforcement training builds a great relationship with the dog and owner. It makes dogs want to do what you’re trying to get them to do.” If she sees more difficult behavior such as aggression, it might be a chemical imbalance and she’ll suggest to the owner to get the dog medically checked.



Most trainers offer different options for working with your dog. These include group, private, or in-home sessions. And it doesn’t have to take very long to see results.


Honkala gave an example of a successful outcome. A mother and daughter moved in together and each had a dog. The dogs didn’t get along. They couldn’t even be in the same room. Honkala diagnosed their issues as fear-based and under-confident aggression by one of the dogs. Through confidence building and positive training including lots of praise and affection, by the second session, the dog initiating the problems began to relax. Honkala taught the owners to read the dogs’ body language. She worked with them on correcting and reinforcing behavior in a positive way. The dogs sleep together now.



Sue Conklin, owner of The Puppy Nanny’s Place in Simpsonville, is also a big believer in positive reinforcement to modify a dog’s behavior. For example, if your dog is barking or lunging at other dogs when on the leash, Conklin says the first step is going on a fact-finding mission. Find out what is setting your dog off, the distance at which your dog is reacting, and then not reacting. This behavior usually comes from a place of fear, not dominance.


Conklin said one of the biggest mistakes people who adopt older dogs make is to assume they are house-trained and chew-trained. She said owners need to start off as if they’ve adopted a puppy. “Good, positive reinforcement training will only make your relationship with your dog better. If you train people to handle their dogs properly, the dogs will fall in line.”


Pitman and McComas couldn’t agree more. They related the story of a dog named Lucy who came to them from a hoarding situation from another shelter. Lucy was shy and terrified when she arrived at GHS. They knew that whoever adopted Lucy would have to be a very special person.


There was a young girl who had severe migraines who was looking for a dog. Pitman said, “She couldn’t keep up in school because she missed so many days. But she wanted an animal she would have to take care of, instead of someone always taking care of her.”


So the young girl met scared little Lucy and they hit it off, and Lucy got a forever home, and the young girl got a loving and faithful companion. The girl studied how to train her dog. Soon the rescue with little hope also learned to do tricks and dance. She has now become a therapy dog. The young girl is all grown up, and is now in school to be a vet tech. And Lucy sleeps with her girl in a real bed every night.



Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved

It Starts With Us



The more I think about recent tragedies, most certainly starting with the Charleston massacre, I believe change can only start with us. How we speak and how we convey our attitudes in respect to differences. I’m not even talking about the awful prejudices against people of other skin colors, ethnic backgrounds, or religions. I’m talking about our intolerance – that seems to be getting so much worse – against people who believe differently than we do.

Hatred and ridicule are rampant. How many times do we use the word ‘hate?’ I hate that politician. He’s an idiot.

How many times do we do this in front of our impressionable children? We give lip service to telling them not to hate. But that word comes out of our mouths multiple times a day.

We most likely really don’t hate that person. We may dislike what they do. We may oppose their beliefs. But in the majority of cases, do we really hate them? Or if we took a minute, could we see their humanity? The families they love and who love them. The things they’ve overcome to get where they are. The pain they’ve been through. Most likely, somewhere, we can find common ground. That’s the first step into acknowledging their humanity.

It starts with us. We need to catch ourselves before we use that word. And we need to stop before we let our feelings of frustration at why they don’t believe what we believe turn into something much worse.

Our children are watching. They’re listening. And they’re absorbing all of this intolerance into their psyches. And look what’s happening to us.

It starts with us.


Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved

New Naturally Nancy Recipe: Spiralized Zucchini Crumble

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If you’re looking for a quick, healthy recipe for all the zucchini you’re finding as summer approaches, I’ve come up with a great recipe for you. I spiralize the zucchini so it’s like pasta, and add beefless crumbles, so it’s a healthy, gluten-free, vegetarian version of spaghetti and meat sauce. Give it a try – you won’t miss the pasta or the meat!

Mother’s Day Without Mom

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As many of you know, I lost my mom last year. It still doesn’t make sense for me to write that. How do you lose the person who gave you life? How is she here one day, and gone the next? How do you find your footing when you wake up reeling every single day?

And here comes Mother’s Day. A day when we honor our moms for all they’ve done. And everywhere you turn, you’re inundated with Mother’s Day ads, tributes, sales, and deals. In recent years, I wondered about my friends who had lost their moms, whether long ago or recently. Were they OK watching everyone else talk about what they were going to be doing with their moms, or what they were buying their moms, or all the wonderful things their moms had done for them? Was it rubbing it in their face that I could still do all that with my mom? I had no way of knowing unless I asked. But I didn’t ask. I just felt pangs of guilt, hoping I wasn’t making it worse for them.

And now, I’m in their shoes. And the answer would be, it’s complicated. Yes, I feel a pang of envy. Yes, it hurts that my mom is not here, and no matter how much I cry out for her, she will no longer answer.

But on the other hand, I am happy for those who can still feel their mother’s embrace. Who can still confide their fears to her. Who still have the time to right any wrongs, apologize for any hurts, smooth over the bumps. Because the love of a mother is so primal and unconditional, there is nothing else like it in our lives. And we all deserve to know that love for as long as we possibly can. I do recognize that there are cases where the transgression is so egregious, and the breach is so devastating, that reconciliation isn’t possible. But in many other cases, the hurts and perceived transgressions aren’t worth the loss of a relationship.

I want people who still have their moms to realize that life can change on a dime, and while we all think there is always still time, that’s an illusion. And a delusion. As the saying goes, no one is promised tomorrow. You can still change the course of your relationship when your mom is still alive. You can forgive many things, or you can ask forgiveness as well. Because once your mom is gone, so are your chances of making things right.

There is no perfect person and there is no perfect relationship. But when you let go of expectations of perfection, you can forge a new, more adult relationship. I know I did with my mom. And with her absence from my life, I’ve realized that so much of what I’ve done for most of my life has been with the hopes of sharing that experience with her in some way, making her proud, getting her approval. Any successes I’ve had since her passing have been kind of hollow. Because the first thing I want to do is call her on the phone, or send her a copy of something I’ve had published. Her smile and praise meant the world to me. And until I lost her, I had no idea that it was all centered around her.

If you do have your mom alive on this Earth, and you have any kind of decent relationship with her, let her know how much she means to you. You might not ever get that chance again.

But if you, too, are still finding yourself off-balance by her loss, look for something that would make her smile. Or make her proud. Or that keeps her alive for you. Because although she might be gone, the greatest tribute to your mom is the love that will always be in your heart.


Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved



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