Couple to host book signing Thursday
ELLSWORTH -- In the 10 years they've been married, Ellsworth native Larry Boomgaarden and his bride -- Massachusetts native Susan Kallander -- had long talked about writing a children's book detailing the Boomgaarden family threshing tradition.
It never really came to fruition, however, until one day about three years ago, when Larry handed Susan a rough draft -- actually it was more of an outline -- detailing the annual gatherings around their steam-powered engines.
Their finished product, "Up in Smoke," was self-published in May, and the couple will now host a book signing in Larry's hometown of Ellsworth on Thursday. Books will be available for purchase at the signing, which begins at 5 p.m. at the Ellsworth High School library. The event coincides with an Ellsworth High School volleyball match that night.
Much of Larry's family remains in southwest Minnesota, with an aunt and cousins living in the Ellsworth area.
"My grandfather was the 19th person in Minnesota with a steam engineer's license," explained Larry. "He started the family in the steam tractor business."
Over the years, the knowledge was passed on to the second, third and now fourth generations of Boomgaardens. Their last steam-powered threshing event was a few years back on Larry's brother's farm near Kenyon. Still, they had the family's original steam threshing machine, a half-scale version built by Larry's father and uncle, and a quarter-scale version that the kids can operate "under guidance."
"After they're done threshing, then his sister-in-law Mona throws a bag of candy into the blower and it blows into the straw pile," Susan said. "The kids have a great time hunting for this wrapped candy."
That scene is included in the book, which details a Boomgaarden family harvest weekend in which nearly 200 people gather on the farm to thresh the oats, eat and enjoy an evening of music.
"Music is a very big feature in the Boomgaarden family," said Susan.
Larry's father was the founding member of the George Boomgaarden Orchestra in southwest Minnesota, and his brother performs in a regional band, Iron Horse.
In addition to telling the story of the threshing tradition, Susan did all of the watercolor illustrations for the book. All of the people painted into the scenes represent family members -- from Larry and his brother, Dwight, to Susan's brother, Peter, and one of her grandsons.
Susan refers to Larry as the technical advisor for the book, although it has long been her dream to write, or at the very least illustrate, a children's book. During library visits with her grandchildren, she realized the selections lacked tales of family togetherness.
"I wrote this about a loving, happy family that gets together -- multi-generational -- to play and work together," she said.
Susan hopes the book is the first of many, but she is working now to find both a publisher and an agent.
"This got me started and now I'm off and running," she said. "I've got so many books in my head now."
Susan is working on a series of travel-related children's books, including one about community supported agriculture. She will do the illustrations for those books as well. Susan earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustrating from the Massachusetts College of Art prior to raising a family and, most recently, operating a bed and breakfast in Massachusetts with her husband.
Larry and Susan sold the B&B three years ago.
"The longer we did it, the more people we had, and the more people we had, the more work it was," Susan said. "They came from all over the world, they were having a wonderful time and we were doing laundry and cleaning toilets.
"We sold it, we got out of Dodge and we've been on the road ever since," she added. "It's been three years and we're still learning how to (live without having an actual home address)."
They will spend this winter in Texas, and by next September they will be in Massachusetts for Susan's one-woman art show, featuring her paintings from across the country, and her book.
For those who can't make it to Thursday's book signing, Larry and Susan's book, "Up in Smoke," is available for purchase online at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
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