Kari and Kevin’s Kreations, a dream for rural Harding couple

(Pictured are Kari Dembouski and her grandmother Gertrude Przybilla with a sampling of homemade scented specialty soaps Kari creates in her basement workshop. Staff photo by Lorae Vardas)

The Dembouskis would like nothing more than turning their passion for old-fashioned soaps, jams and jellies into a cottage industry. But until then, Kari will continue working in the occupational health department at St. Gabriel’s Hospital, a job she also loves. Kevin is a long-time employee of Larson Boats.

“We would like to make a little business out of it,” confided Kari in a recent interview. “Nobody cans anymore. It’s a lost art.” She credits her grandmother Gertrude Przybilla with instilling in her an appreciation for self-sufficiency and making things from scratch.

“I used to spend a lot of time with Grandma. I learned the old-fashioned lifestyle from her. We like the old way of doing things, instead of going to the grocery store for everything.” Today, Kari uses no preservatives or additives and knows exactly what the family is consuming.

Because her mother worked full-time at the bank, Kari hung out at Grandma’s house as a child. To this day she loves hanging out the wash to line dry. Grandmother Przybilla lost her own mother at a young age, so she and her seven siblings had to fend for themselves. They survived through hard work and ingenuity.

Gertrude became a teacher and at one time had 42 students in all grades at the Center Valley School. She walked two and one-half miles from home to school. Hearing stories about making laundry soap outside in a big black kettle from recycled lard piqued Kari’s interest. She searched the Internet for recipes and got hooked. At age 90, Grandma still enjoys a good bar of soap and delights in a well-stocked fruit cellar.

“I exhibited at the County Fair for the first time this year and got a blue ribbon on my soap and my blackberry jelly. I felt just like a little kid again,” she said. “I would like to work with the Extension Office on canning and preservation classes.” Kari envisions whole day retreats aimed at passing on the tradition to another generation.

“I’m always experimenting with new things,” she says of the soap making venture. In addition to an array of naturally scented soaps, she creates lotion bars and shampoo soaps. Daughter Daisy, 5, a kindergartner at Holy Trinity School in Pierz, helps tie on the raffia labels. “It’s good practice for tying her shoes,” her mother laughs. Younger sister Ivy, 2, is still an observer. Husband Kevin gets involved with the carpentry work.

Kari uses only food grade cooking oil for the soaps. The colors come from spices and natural flavorings. The scents are purchased from a specialty company. There is no alcohol in the product, so it’s better for your skin, she explains. With names like lemon grass, oatmeal, lavender and toasted coconut, they smell good enough to eat.

The Dembouskis own 280 acres of land, much of it wooded, where they raise Appaloosa horses and a white mammoth donkey they want to cross to get a spotted mule. In the past 10 years many improvements have been made to the place, including a house addition featuring a lofted great room with hand-hewn cedar stair case and railing.

A working windmill is going up near the horse barn. An orchard with 250 fruit trees bearing 15 kinds of apples has been started. There are 75 staked grape vines and 50 cherry trees. Table plums and blueberry bushes are already producing succulent fruit. Their dream is to grow and preserve their own line of canned food products.

The public is invited to a holiday open house at Kari and Kevin’s Kreations December 8 and 9 at their residence located at 32036 Quest Road four miles north of Harding. There will be free drawings, coffee, cookies and apple cider.

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