Posts in Category: Reflections

May You Have the Best Holiday Season Ever

face in fire logo w_gold bkgrd_Merry Xmas 2

Season Greetings (All photos and graphic design by Thomas Halek)

Happy Holidays to all my viewers, returning and new. May the new year bring many exciting new adventures with lots of new stories. Thank you for joining me on my quest into the bizarre and unexplained, and my reflections on stories happening in everyday life. In the new year there will be lots of new adventures to report on, so say tuned.

Cheers – Thomas Halek

U.S. Citizenship – The American Dream

Oath of Allegiance                                                                                                                                                                     Audio by Thomas Halek

On October 8, 2015, at 10:00, 195 immigrants from all over the world met at the Mitchell/Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota where Chief Judge John R. Tunheim, United States District Court swore them in as U.S. citizens fulfilling their American Dream. Today, the American dream of every immigrant in the U.S. is one day becoming a citizen of the United States.

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Citizenship Candidates                                                                                                                                                            Photo by Thomas Halek

Chief Judge John R. Tunheim_IMG_5496                                                                              Chief Judge John R. Tunheim        Photo by Thomas Halek

Oath of Allegence_IMG_5555a                                                                                    Oath of Allegiance             Photo by Thomas Halek

Flag in Hand_IMG_5546Flag in Hand                                                                                                                                                                              Photo by Thomas Halek

Many immigrants come from war-torn, poverty-stricken, and illiterate parts of the world. To have the opportunity to come to the United States and become U.S. citizens is a major life change that will affect you, your children, and your family for generations.

United States Citizen

The benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen are incredible. The benefits are so incredible that most people who were born citizens in the U.S. do not realize it and take them for granted. However, the road to becoming a citizen is a long and difficult one. In the introduction of the article, Mistaking U.S. Citizenship, it states, the value of citizenship is strong, and the law penalizes anyone falsely claiming citizenship or the benefits from being a citizen. The most important benefit of becoming a U.S. citizen is freedom. In an article, The American Melting Pot Is a Rich Stew, Martin Cuadra, a young Nicaragua man in Miami stated, “The United States is a place where your dreams can come true. I value the opportunity to live in a free country and, yes, make money, but money is not more important than freedom.”

In an article, THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD, John M. Sanderson describes the first necessary steps. You must spend at least six months a year in the U.S. and reside in a USCIS district before filing an application. You must be able to read, write, speak English, and have an understanding of U.S. history and government.

With the benefits of U.S. citizenship, you gain the right to vote and are eligible to sponsor your immediate relatives for U.S. Legal Permanent Residence. You may possess a U.S. passport with protection from deportation. You also become eligible for a wide range of benefits and assistance programs from the U.S. government including Social Security and Medicare.

It is time to be proud, strong, take action, and pursue the American Dream of becoming a U.S. citizen. Go to USCIS at to learn more and get the process rolling.




By Thomas Halek and Donna Larson

Read to the Rhythm                                                       Video by Thomas Halek

The Rush City Public Library’s 2015 Summer Reading Program, Read To The Rhythm, led by Branch Librarian, Donna Larson, helped kids beat the “Summer Slide.”

Donna Larson Final                                                                                             Donna Larson      Photo by Mike Willett

Summer Slide Infographic Final                                Summer Slide Infographic                            Infographic by Dominican University Research: Close The Reading Gap

The Family Team Bingo project enabled all ages from toddlers to grandparents to get in on the fun. Each team’s mission, for those who accepted it, was to complete a Bingo card featuring 25 reading, learning, and family-togetherness activities. Bingo cards finished by August 8 were eligible for the grand prize drawing – a Kindle Fire HD – which was won by Team A Johnson.

Team A Johnson Final                                                      Team A Johnson (Left to right) Alissa, Alaina and Andy Johnson       Photo by Donna Larson

Teens & Tweens (ages 12-17) earned prizes when they read and participated in various activities on their Teen Ticket. One feature encouraged them to “Read a Book: Write a Song!” For each book read, participants earned the right to place notes on a musical staff to complete a measure. Eight measures completed (i.e., 8 books read) became a tune. Rush City musician Troy Heling then wrote the song “Ripples” from the tunes created by the reading Teens. The grand prize Kindle Fire HD was captured by 15-year-old Chad Fleischhacker, while Lucy Thrippleton earned runner-up honors.

Tory Blur Final IMG_5348Troy Heling                                                                                                                                                                Photo by Thomas Halek

Chad Final                                                                                      Chad Fleischhacker      Photo by Thomas Halek

Elementary and Preschool children who read and were read to tracked their progress on Reading Logs. Prizes were earned for every 2 hours of reading, and children who completed 16:40 hours were eligible for fabulous grand prize drawings. A delighted 11-year-old Jorja Brown won the Kindle Fire HD at this level. Daniel Weihmann and Nevaeh Sucky earned other bonus prizes. Eighty children in this age group earned at least one prize for their summer reading efforts.

Challenges on the Family Bingo project and Teen Ticket included the task of “Finding Elvis.” When located, participants shot a selfie with the iconic musician and emailed it to the librarian.

Eight Rush City businesses hosted “Elvis” for one week:

Elvis Final










Barb Johnson, Owner of the Historic Grant House, welcoming Elvis     Photo by Donna Larson

Community involvement made all the difference in this year’s reading program.

Rush Printing produced the large window banner encouraging participation in the program and recognizing Ardent Mills as the program’s Mega Sponsor. The Rush City Ardent Mills was started in 1911.

Window Banner Final IMG_5351

Widow Banner                                Designed and Printed by Jill Haugrud, Rush Printing


Pet Cremation                                                                                                                                                   (Video by Thomas Halek)

When a beloved pet passes away, most owners are afraid to have their pet cremated because they do not know if they will get their pet’s ashes back. Once they learn what is involved in pet cremation they can seek out a crematory that will put their mind at ease and give them the cremation service that they want. The video is about Donald “Skip” Wyland and his cremation business, PETS REMEMBERED Cremation Services. Wyland talks about what got him into the business and what happens to the pet during the cremation process.

Wyland also stated, “Pets are family members, and they apply the same standards to your pet as we would have done to a parent or grandparent.”

There are three basic categories available when cremating a pet, private cremation, individual cremation, and mass cremation. A private cremation is done with the pet placed in the crematory by itself. Individual cremation can mean one of two things. It can mean individual by itself or individual in a group. A pet owner who requests individual cremation needs to ask if it is individual by itself or individual in a group at that crematorium. With mass cremation, several pets are cremated together.

When Jocelin Schellbach’s pet passed away, she said, “ At first when I decided that I wanted to have her cremated I was scared that I would not get her ashes back.” Schellbach went on to say, “My girl was hit by a car and was taken from me. I just wanted to have her ashes with me forever.” After doing some research, she found a reputable crematorium, had her pet cremated, and now has her ashes with her.

The pet care industry in the U.S. is second only to the electronics industry. In 2012, Eric Spitznagel from Bloomberg Business wrote an article about pet aftercare, There’s Never Been a Better Time To Be a Dead Pet. In the article, Spitznagel reported that there were about 700 pet aftercare facilities in the U.S. Spitznagel also reported that the pet care industry brought in $52.87 billion in 2011.


DSCN5043 - Copy FinalWalter                                                                                               (Photo by Thomas Halek)

This story is about a writer (who wishes to remain anonymous) and his love for his best friend Walter, a 16-year-old long-haired Chihuahua. Walter passed away on June 9, 2015 at 8:50 P.M. Walter’s master said, “He always had my back. Whenever I was happy, he was happy. When I was sad he would make me smile, and whenever I was angry he would help me stay calm.”

Two years ago, Walter helped his master write a poem titled ‘FREEDOM’. The poem was about what freedom meant to Walter.

Walter B Freedom Final                    FREEDOM by Walter and his master                                               (Photography and graphic design by Thomas Halek)

IMG_1829 Final                                                    Walter enjoying the outdoors                                                       (Photo by Thomas Halek)

2011-09-07 18.42.34 Final                                                                   Walter standing guard                                 (Photo by Thomas Halek)

About a year ago, Walter’s master wrote an animated short titled ‘A Golden Moment’, starring Walter, and a 2-year-old Appaloosa stud colt named Merlin. The story was about their adventures on their journey to find what was at the end of a rainbow.

A typical day in Walter’s life would start with an 8:00 A.M. wake-up call for his master. He would sit on his master’s chest and lick the end of his nose until he got up and let Walter outside to take care of business. Next, his master would serve him breakfast, a portion of canned dog food. His favorite was chicken and bacon. For the next couple of hours, Walter would curl up at his master’s feet and listen to the clicking of his master’s keyboard as he worked on his writing. Around 11:00 A.M. Walter would go for a ride with his master to go to the Post Office and do other chores. Going for rides was one of his favorite things to do. He would stretch out on the front seat and soak up the moment. If fact, if his master were late in going into town, Walter would either paw at his master’s leg or sit up, paw the air and speak until his master would take him for his ride. On days when his master did not have to go to work, they would go for walks, go fishing, or go to one of his master’s favorite places to get inspired and write. Walter loved being in the outdoors with his master.

IMG_0038 Final                                                  Walter waiting to go for a ride                                                       (Photo by Thomas Halek)

2011-09-06 18.54.17 Final                                                                         Walter waiting for his master                   (Photo by Thomas Halek)

IMG_0716 Final                                                                          Walter saying, “Let’s go.”                        (Photo by Thomas Halek)

On days when his master was gone to work or doing his business, Walter would sit for hours at the top of the steps or in the entry waiting for his return.

IMG_0087 Final                                                                      Walter waiting for his master to come home  (Photo by Thomas Halek)

IMG_0089 Final                                                                       Walter saying, “Where is he?”                 (Photo by Thomas Halek)

IMG_1150 Final                                                                         Walter still waiting                                   (Photo by Thomas Halek)

Whenever it was possible, Walter was always at his master’s side. When it was time to go outside or for a second ride into town, all his master had to do was look at him, raise his hand and motion with his index finger and Walter would come flying. His master said, “If I were heading for the door Walter would sit, and watch for me to turn and motion him to follow me. I would turn, look into his eyes from across the room, and as soon as I raised my arm, he would jump up and wait for the signal. As soon as he got it he would race across the carpet in a fury to get to me.”

IMG_1823 Final                                                          Walter on a walk                                                                     (Photo by Thomas Halek)

IMG_4638 Final                                                               Walter on the deck watching for wildlife                    (Photo by Thomas Halek)

IMG_4631 Final                                                                Walter still watching                                                 (Photo by Thomas Halek)

IMG_4633 Final                                                               Walter, “I see a deer.”                                            (Photo by Thomas Halek)

At night, Walter would once again curl up by his master and listen to the magical purr of the keyboard, as his master would write until the early hours of the morning. When finished, his master would look down at him and say, “It’s night-night time.” Walter would jump up, run into the bedroom, and stand next to his master’s side of the bed and wait for him to pick him up and set him on the bed. After his master settled in bed, Walter would curl up in his master’s left armpit, and they would fall fast asleep.

Reflecting on Walter’s first night with him, his master said, “The first night Walter went to bed with me, he bit me on the nose. It was as if he was trying to tell me, he may be little, but he is still the boss. From that moment on, we were best buds forever.”

Reflecting on what happened when Walter passed away his master said, “I held him in my arms, cried, and begged him to come back to me. I could feel his spirit looking down at me, telling me not to be sad, he had a great life with me and would always be with me.”

IMG_4803 Final                                               Walter at peace                                                                                       (Photo by Thomas Halek)

Walter’s cremation took place on June 11, 2015 at PETS REMEMBERED cremation service in New Brighton, Minnesota. Walter’s master said that one of his biggest fears about having Walter cremated was, “Will I get my Walter’s ashes back?“ He reported that after researching pet cremation, he found Pets Remembered. At Pets Remembered, only one pet is cremated at a time, and you can be involved as much as you desire right up to and including placing the pet into the crematorium.

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Walter waiting to be placed into the crematorium

(Photo by Thomas Halek)





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Walter being placed into the crematorium

(Photo by Thomas Halek)




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Walter in the crematorium

(Photo by Thomas Halek)




After Walter’s cremation, his master was given a carved wooden urn with Walter’s ashes. He also received a pendant, which contained some of Water’s ashes. His master replied, “While wearing this pendant my buddy will always go with me, no matter what I do or where I am.”

IMG_1011(1) Final                                                 Walter in his final resting place, his urn and pendent                               (Photo by Thomas Halek)



Strelow, an Army veteran from the Korean War, shared his experiences in getting medical attention from the VA. Several years ago, in an accident he lost one eye. Since that accident, the vision in his good eye has been slowly deteriorating to the point where he can barely see anymore. The VA told him that a certain type of surgery would help his vision immensely, and for over a year, he tried to get the surgery scheduled. Each time he made an appointment it was rescheduled or canceled. Strelow stated, “It’s so screwed up. I received a cancellation notice, and when I called to reschedule, I was told that because I had supposedly failed to show up everything was cancelled.” He went on to say, “I never missed an appointment. That was just an excuse to stall me. The women I talked to was rude and told me I didn’t think too much of my fellow veterans and will have to start the process all over again.”

20150610_Franklin Strelow_01              Franklin Strelow                                                              (Photo by Thomas Halek)

Eight months later Strelow had surgery on his eye. Strelow said, “I had enough with the bureaucracy with the VA and went to a regular Doctor and had the surgery done. Now I can finally see again. I am done trying to get help from the VA.”

Strelow lives in his home on the outskirts of Rush City, Minnesota.

20150610_Franklin Strelow_02Strelow’s Home                                                                                   (Photo by Thomas Halek)

At the age of 83, he still operates his excavation business.

20150610_Franklin Strelow_03Strelow’s Ford Backhoe                                                                  (Photo by Thomas Halek)

He loves operating his bulldozer.

20150610_Franklin Strelow_04Strelow Operating His Bull Dozer                                                      (Photo by Thomas Halek)

20150610_Franklin Strelow_05Strelow At The Controls                                                                   (Photo by Thomas Halek)

20150610_Franklin Strelow_06Backhoe Control Lever                                                                      (Photo by Thomas Halek)

He loves operating his backhoe.

20150610_Franklin Strelow_07Strelow Operating Cat Backhoe                                                      (Photo by Thomas Halek)

20150610_Franklin Strelow_08Backhoe Steering Wheel                                                                 (Photo by Thomas Halek)

Now that he has his eyesight back, no job is too challenging.

20150610_Franklin Strelow_09Strelow Operating Bull Dozer                                                            (Photo by Thomas Halek)

20150610_Franklin Strelow_10Strelow Filling Dump Truck With Black Dirt                                       (Photo by Thomas Halek)

When not excavating he loves his garden.

20150610_Franklin Strelow_11Strelow’s Garden Plot                                                                     (Photo by Thomas Halek)

In his backyard, he has a creek that runs through it.

20150610_Franklin Strelow_12Strelow’s Backyard Creek                                                                (Photo by Thomas Halek)

Strelow said, “My real love is operating my equipment.”

20150610_Franklin Strelow_13Strelow And His Bull Dozer                                                             (Photo by Thomas Halek)

In summation Strelow remarked, “Now that I am seeing my regular doctors and can see, I am much happier.”


Groomers Astonishing Talent To Bring New Life To A Tattered Pet                                                    Video by Thomas Halek



The pet population in the U.S., today is growing rapidly, and the demand for groomers has grown with it. In a table published by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010, titled, Table 1241. Household Pet Ownership: 2006, reported that the total companion pet population for dogs was over 72.1 million and the number of households with dogs was over 43 million.

In Minnesota, where Cheryl Pearson, the groomer featured in the video above resides, reported in a 2010 study that there were approximately 569 grooming businesses in a state resident population of over 5,303,925. The estimated households with pets were 1,237,129.

In a report by IBISWorld, they reported that the Pet Grooming Industry was one of the few industries that were not hit hard by the depression. In 2013, the number of households owning a pet had increased to over 82.5 million. With the increased growth of ownership comes the increased growth for groomers.


The average income for groomers varies considerably depending on whether they are self-employed or work for pet supply stores, kennels, veterinary clinics or animal shelters.

The Houston Chronicle in an article on ‘The Average Income For A Dog Groomer reported in 2010 the average hourly rate for salary groomers was $9.10 an hour. The rate for self-employed was $25 to $30 an hour with yearly earnings, before expenses, reaching nearly six figures.

Pearson said, “One of the things I truly enjoy is to see the smile on my clients faces when they pick up their pets after they have been pampered and how much their pet loves me for doing it.”


Librarian Influence On Our Lives and In Our Community                                                                            Video by Thomas Halek

Your local librarian is your pilot and navigator to any world your imagination wants to travel too and the world your depression wants to leave. Just ask your librarian for help and in minutes, you are transported from your world to any place you want to be. Whether it is the deepest jungle or a voyage into outer space with Edgar Rice Burroughs, an adventure into other worlds with H. G. Wells, or delve into mystery and suspense with William Kent Kruger, your librarian can help guide you there. Perhaps you want to learn about those who overcome insurmountable obstacles and achieved their goals. Your librarian can help you find them.

Donna Larson is one such librarian. Larson is a head librarian with the East Central Library System at the Rush City Library in Rush City, Minnesota since February of 2011. She is originally from Minnesota, has a 2-year degree in business from the University of Minnesota in Crookston and a 2-year degree in Equestrian Studies at a school in West Virginia. Larson and her husband are both ordained ministers and have led a church in Princeton, Minnesota for 31 years since they started it. She has written many ministry related articles, conducted research, developed Bible and Christian children’s curriculum, and attended or hosted many leadership conferences. Larson loves to read novels at night. It helps her to forget about her trials and tribulations of everyday life and helps her to sleep. When it comes to being a librarian, Larson said, “Witnessing that sense of desire and anticipation when a customer comes into the library is invigorating.”

Alison M.G. Follos, a librarian at North Country School in upstate New York, wrote an article titled ‘Change the Literacy Depression in Your School: Read Teens a Story!’ In the article she wrote, “Reading out loud to teens initiates, develops, and solidifies a love of literature.”

A librarian has a wealth of knowledge and an unending reach to other worlds limited only by your imagination and your need to replenish your spirit. With that in mind, a librarian is truly an ultimate weapon for depression in the young and old alike.


William Kent Krueger Presentation                                                                         Video, Photography, and Graphic Design by Thomas Halek

On Tuesday April 14, 2015, at the East Central Library (Giese Memorial Library) in Wyoming, Minnesota, William Kent Krueger gave a presentation of his life as an author. Krueger is a New York Times best-selling author, and his books have received numerous awards including the Anthony Award, Edgar Award, and Minnesota Book Award many times over. To date, he has written 16 novels. His Cork O’Connor Series comprises of 14:

  1. IRON LAKE – 1999



  4. BLOOD HOLLOW – 2004

  5. MERCY FALLS – 2005

  6. COPPER RIVER – 2006

  7. THUNDER BAY – 2007

  8. RED KNIFE – 2008

  9. HEAVEN’S KEEP – 2009


  11. NORTHWEST ANGLE – 2011

  12. TRICKSTER’S POINT – 2012

  13. TAMARACK COUNTY – 2013

  14. WINDIGO ISLAND – 2014

Krueger has two stand-alone novels:

  1. THE DEVEL’S BED – 2003

  2. ORDINARY GRACE – 2013

Krueger lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and publishes under the name, William Kent Kruger. He has been married for 42 years and has children and grandchildren. The stories that he writes in the Cork O’Connor series come from issues that arise out of the interaction of 2 cultures, White, and Ojibwa. He has written about Indian Gaming Casinos and the effect that has had on both the Ojibwa population and surrounding White population. He has written about the on-going battle in Minnesota over hunting and fishing treaty rights. He has also written about the increase of drug and gang cultures on the reservation.

In his presentation, Krueger talked about what he had learned from his father when his father read stories to him. He said, “A story once begun can go anywhere. You are limited only by the reach of your own imagination.”

Part of Krueger’s presentation was about other author’s quotes. He said, “I discovered if I quote smart people it makes me look smart.” His favorite quote was by an anonymous author. It went, “Anyone who says they have but one life to live must not know how to read a book.”

When Krueger was in the third-grade, he wrote a short story about a dictionary that did not think it was being used enough. It magically sprouted legs so that it could toddle off into the world and go to the people that needed it. He said, “My third-grade teacher ooh and awed over that story. My parents ooh and awed over that story. I date my desire to write all the way back to that oohing and awing in the third-grade.”


Buerhing Dairy Farm                                                                                                       Video By Thomas Halek

The video is about the current sights and sounds at the Buerhing Dairy Farm in Northeastern Minnesota just outside of Rush City. The story is about interesting facts pertaining to the dairy industry in the U.S. and Minnesota that is in a report from the Minnesota Farm Guide. Kent Thiesse, Farm Management Analyst, and Vice President, Minnstar Bank wrote the report, “Interesting facts of the dairy industry in the U.S. and Minnesota,” dated July 10, 2012.

Since 1939, June is “Dairy Month” in Minnesota. According to the report, Minnesota has about 4,500 dairy farms. In a report, “Dairy: Farm Numbers by County and District, Minnesota, January 2012,” the Minnesota Publications Annual Statistical Bulletin, Chisago County, the Buerhing Dairy Farm location, has 22 dairy farms.

In 2010, the average dairy cow produced 19,366 pounds of milk. Of all of the livestock in Minnesota, dairy produces the second largest amount of annual cash flow. Hog production is number one. Thiesse, in his report said, “The dairy production and processing industry is the second largest agricultural business in Minnesota, generating approximately $5.6 billion per year, with a total economic impact to the state of about $11.5 billion, or about $25,000 per dairy cow in Minnesota.”

Thiesse said, “U.S. dairy farms are producing three times more milk today, as compared to 1960, with about half the number of cows, reducing the total resources needed by the dairy industry.”

In 2010, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture released a report, “Minnesota Industry Profile,” prepared by Su Ye. The article reported that in 2008 Minnesota exported $200 million in dairy products and supported more than 38,000 jobs in the state.