Kiki Lowenstein and the Penny Pincher

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By Joanna Campbell Slan

Editor’s Note: The Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series features a scrapbooking momwhose creativity isn’t limited to papercrafts.

Author’s Note: In the timeline of Kiki’s life this comes right before Handmade, Holiday, Homicide (Book #10)

“I saw this online and bought itfor the store. I thought it appropriate,” said my friend Clancy Whitehead, asshe handed me a wrapped present. In her tailored brown slacks, ivory silkblouse, and camel-colored cardigan, Clancy was the picture of elegance.

Meanwhile, I’m still wearing mymaternity pants with the elastic panels. Although I tell myself that eventuallythe weight will come off, it’ll probably take forever. It seems like I’ve beenpregnant forever, and frankly I’m feeling a little down. That’s probably onereason that Clancy bought me a gift.

My low mood is silly, because Ihave so much to be thankful for. My name is Kiki Lowenstein, and I own Time ina Bottle, a scrapbooking and crafts store in St. Louis. I’m the mother of twoadorable kids and one on the way. In fact, I’m due the second week in January.My other half is a hunky cop, Detective Chad Detweiler. He’s unofficially my fiancé.We plan to get married, as soon as we can find the time.

Life is good, mainly.I was fifteen years younger the last time I was expecting, and I wasn’t workingfull-time, so to say life is “hectic” is an understatement.

Tonight starts the first of our Double-Dip Classes. Likethe old Doublemint Gum commercials, we’re offering not one but two fantasticlearning experiences. I’m excited about the projects I have planned for ourscrapbookers. But I’m also a tad worried, because Iona Lippman has signed upfor both classes. She can be a bit rough around the edges.

“Go on,” prompted Clancy. “Open thegift.”

After my fingers carefully priedapart the pink polka dot tissue paper, I discovered an adorable sign nestledinside: “All our guests please us. Some by their coming, and some by theirgoing.”

“Iona is definitely a ‘goer,'” said Clancy. “You can’tplease her, Kiki. She’ll always find something to complain about. That’s whoshe is. So just relax about the classes tonight and try to have fun. Don’t lether ruin the evening.”

“Thank you,” I told my friend, “foreverything.”

Clancy being Clancy, she gave me a self-satisfied smile.She’s not much of a touchy-feely person, but she’s a wonderful friend.

“You’ve got all your prep done?”she asked. “Anything I can do?”

“I’m fine. First we’re doing the Keepsake Recipe Album. Theassignment was for each scrapbooker to bring in a recipe that her familyenjoys. A main dish. She should also have a photo of the food. Of course, ifthat’s not possible, we’ll work with just the recipe and leave a place on thescrapbook page for the photo. I assume all of them have been in to choose theiralbums?”

“Yes. Iona came in Friday. She doesn’t like the 8- by8-inch size. She also didn’t like the color of the album cover.” Clancy pulledup a chair across from my big desk. Resting her face on her hands, sheshrugged. “I told her you might have suggestions for customizing the cover.”

“I do.”

“What’s the second class?” askedClancy.

“It’s called Tips from InteriorDesigners,” I said, withdrawing my handout from the bottom desk drawer. “Manyinterior designers use a 60-30-10 rule when working with colors. The dominantshade should cover 60 percent of the page, then two other colors would be 30and 10 percent. I’m also showing the scrapbookers how they can ‘translate’ aphoto of an interior design into a scrapbook page layout.”

“Fascinating idea,” said Clancy.”I’m glad I’m staying for the evening.”

“I am too.”

As it happened, Clancy was alifesaver. Two hours later, after listening to Iona complain non-stop about heralbum, I was happy to have someone there to keep me from throttling the woman.Iona started complaining the minute she crossed our threshold. As far as Icould tell, she didn’t even pause to take a breath.

“Not only do I hate everythingabout this album. I don’t want a recipe book full of main courses. My specialtyis dessert.” She pushed my sample album off to one side, as shepouted at me.

I gritted my teeth. “Good. Since Christmas isn’t that far away, your assignment is to bringyour favorite dessert and its recipe.”

“I’ll bring my Red Velvet Cake,” said Lisa Ferguson.

“No way!” shouted Iona. “I have mygreat-great-grandmother’s special Red Velvet Cake recipe. It’s been passed downfrom the oldest daughter to oldest daughter. No one outside the family has everseen it.”

“Whoa!” I spread my hands in what I hope was a placatinggesture. “You can both bring your red velvet recipes. Since these are yourpersonal cookbooks, duplication won’t be a problem.”

“There won’t be any duplication,” sniffed Iona, as shetugged her sleeves over her hands. Her fingers were chaffed and red from thecold. “My family recipe is simply the best. It’s never been copied. Not evenclose.”

“Suit yourself,” said Lisa, as she adjusted her cowl necksweater. The weather had been unseasonably bitter. Most of my customers woreboots and gloves. Lisa was no exception. She’d arrived bundled up in a parka.

By contrast, Iona had worn a lightweight wool coat and kepther bare hands shoved deeply into her pockets. I guess she had heranger to keep her warm.

The two women couldn’t have been more different. Ionabragged about every aspect of her life from her husband’s upcoming retirementplans to her own free time for crafting. Lisa had said nearly nothing. Iona wasin her mid-sixties, and Lisa couldn’t have been more than thirty. Probably inher mid-twenties. While Iona had lots of free time, I knew Lisa came to oursessions straight from work, and she kept checking the time because herbabysitter had to leave promptly at nine.

Usually the age difference is helpful in my classes. Likein the quilting bees of old, women bond and share their experiences. The oldergeneration guides the younger, while the younger imparts an energy andhopefulness that my seniors often have forgotten.

But not this time, and not this group. The age differenceonly seemed to cause more friction.

“Now that we have the matter of next week’s recipessettled,” I said, “Let’s turn our attention to Part Two of our Double-Dip. Ifyou’d open your page kits, you’ll see I’ve already chosen your embellishmentsand paper for this cute scrapbook page. Clancy is passing around a copy of HGTVMagazine with a picture of the room that inspired this page.”

“That does it,” snarled Iona.”Kiki, every layout you do involves expensive embellishments.”

“She’s right,” added anothercustomer, Avery Ailes. “I love scrapbooking but, gosh, it’s so expensive. I’vepriced these embellishments. They aren’t cheap.”

Clancy shot me a look over theheads of our customers. I could read my friend’s thoughts as easily as if she’dspoken to me: “Great…now what?”


One week later…


“How’s Erik doing?” asked my friend Clancy, asshe handed me the supplies for the second of our Double-Dip Classes.

“He still misses his mother and father, but he’slooking forward to Christmas.”

Back in August, Detweiler and I were shocked to get amessage that he had a son living in California. Later we learned that his firstwife had been pregnant when she ran off and left him. But the boy wasn’tDetweiler’s natural son. Instead, Erik was the child of an affair between hisfirst wife, Gina, and one of Detweiler’s co-workers.

That said, Gina had left specific instructions in her willthat if anything happened to her and her second husband, Van Lauber, that shewanted Detweiler to take her child, Erik, home to live with him. BecauseDetweiler and Gina were still legally married when she gave birth to Erik—and becauseshe put Detweiler’s name on the birth certificate—Erik was legally Detweiler’schild, even though the boy was biracial and not Detweiler’s biological son.

One look at Erik and Detweiler had fallen hopelessly inlove with the child. I felt the same. Now we were doing our best to help thelittle guy get through the grieving process, since he’d lost both his mother,Gina, and his stepfather, Van, in a fatal car accident.

“Erik’s such a cutie pie.” Clancy broke open packages ofsupplies. “He and Anya getting along?”

My daughter had been an only child of thirteen when she learnedthat she would become the big sister to not one, but two boys. In fact, she’d been with me when a sonogram confirmed the baby I was carrying was a boy.

“So far so good. I think she likes being in charge. Shegets that from her grandmother, Sheila.”

My job was to put the pieces in a plastic baggy and slap onour new store label. I was particularly proud of the image—a glass jar filledwith watches and the words “Time in a Bottle”—because I’d created thelogo myself. Since the watches were every color in the rainbow, the logo wentwith everything! That was important because we had customers who loved brightcolors, those who favored pastels, and some who liked neutrals.

Yes, every guest who walked through our doors was unique inevery way, except for one: They all loved saving memories. It was our job tohelp them do just that.

“No sibling rivalry?” Clancy raised an eyebrow.

“They’re adjusting. Erik has bad dreams, as you mightimagine. Anya came up with a dream catcher and hung it over his bed. I have noidea where she got it. Must have ordered it online.”

“Is it working?”

“Seems to be.”

“She’s a smart kid,” said Clancy, as she cast aneye at our big black clock. “T-minus ten minutes and counting.”

As usual, Clancy was dressed as if she stepped out of aTalbot’s catalog. Tonight she was wearing a pink knit top and gray pants. Iwondered how long it would take me to get back into “real” clothes.

“I think the women will like the layout I created forthe dessert page in their cookbook albums, but the secondportion of the evening is bound to be more challenging.” Iona and Avery Ailes had complained about the high cost ofscrapbook layouts. They had dared me to come up with thrifty ways to create andembellish their pages. I’d been working feverishly all week to do just that.

I crossed my fingers that the two women would like what I’ddone. Just then, the door minder rang. In walked Iona, dragging her CropperHopper behind her.

“Showtime,” said Clancy.

One session down and one to go. I had managed to keep Iona and Lisa from duking it out overthe Red Velvet Cake. Iona’s cake really was better. The hints of buttermilk andvanilla were scrumptious. She glowed with pride as we devoured our slices. Lisasaid very little as she went to work diligently on her cookbook page. Maybe herfeelings were hurt.

Time to move on.

“One of the quickest, easiest and cheapest ways tosave money on any scrapbook layout is to make your own embellishments. I’mgoing to share a few new ideas for raw materials around your house that you canturn into embellishments. Are you ready?”

The women nodded at me with their pens poised to take notes.

Hang tags from purchases—these I cover withpaper or paint with acrylics before adding stickers or stamping on them. Labels from cans—these can bescanned or used as is. Greetingcards—I carefully cut around the images. Sometimes I use Diamond Glaze anda little glitter to spice them up. Oldchildren’s books—the images in these are adorable. Use ‘as is’ or addDiamond Glaze. Pages from oldbooks—either use these as background paper or cut them into the shapes.They also make great flowers! Fabric—glueit or sew it directly to your paper. Scan or photocopy a design you like. Bottle caps—use them flat sidedown or flat side up. Either way you can add letter stickers. I’ve also coloredthem and used them in a row as a border of dots. Styrofoam trays—wash them, drythem, cut them into shapes, and paint them with acrylics. Gift wrap—can be used asbackground paper or you can select a special image and cut it out. Packaging—I reused the packageof the perfume I got for Christmas. I flattened it and cut it into circles forembellishments.”

At that point I paused. “Any questions?”

“And if we don’t have access to a copier or acomputer,” asked Avery. “Then what do we do?”

“Use the tape transfer method. Rub packing tape overthe image. Soak the image in warm water. Peel away the paper. Ta-da!”

But my excitement proved short-lived because Iona shrieked,”Who took my Red Velvet Cake recipe? It’s missing! Who took it? Someonestole it from me!”

“Calm down,” I said, making placating motionswith my hands. “It has to be around here somewhere, Iona. You know howthings get covered up by papers. Or they get swept off the table inadvertently.Let’s not go accusing anyone of mischief.”

With that bold pronouncement of myfaith in human beings, and scrapbookers in particular, I put myself in aticklish spot. The burden of finding her recipe card now rested squarely on myshoulders.

For the next thirty minutes, wetore the class area apart. All of the classmates participated in the treasurehunt. We went through piles of paper, one sheet at time. We looked in thecopier. We opened the paper bags I had taped to each cropper’s work space. Ieven got down on my hands and knees and crawled around on the floor. When therecipe card didn’t show up, I expanded our search area. When I bought Time in aBottle, we didn’t have enough space for our classes. The display shelves tookup all the available room. To make enough space for our sessions, I’d put thosesame display shelves on wheels so they could be rolled to one side. Now, Irolled the shelves this way and that, scouring the store for the missing 3- by5-inch card.

“You don’t understand,” said Iona, with a hitchin her voice. “That recipe has been in my family for generations. We’vepassed it down from mother to daughter. I can’t go home without it. I justcan’t!”

She started howling with misery,while her friend Avery Ailes patted her consolingly on the shoulder.

Clancy sidled over to me and whisperedin my ear, “You can’t win. You realize that, don’t you? If you search eachof our customers for the card, you’re admitting someone probably took it. Ifyou don’t, you’re letting someone walk away with Iona’s recipe. Either way,people are going to be mad at you. They’ll talk about this, and they’ll take itout on the store.”

My friend was right. And I had noidea what to do next.

“How about if I share a fewthrifty ideas for albums?” I said, in an overly perky voice. “Let’sgive ourselves time to think. Maybe the recipe will show up. In fact, I’ll evenoffer a sweetener. The person who finds the recipe will get a $50 giftcertificate to the store.”

Yes, it was a lot of money, but Iwas desperate to save my store’s reputation. The potential bribe worked. Thewomen all took their seats and listened intently.

“We all know how expensivealbums can be,” I said. “And normally I’d be the last persondiscouraging you from buying a pricey album to showcase your prized familyphotos.”

At that, my customers chuckled.

The sound relaxed me just a little,and I continued, “Sometimes you aren’t scrapbooking to create an heirloom.In the immortal words of that wise woman Cyndi Lauper, ‘Girls just want to havefun,’ right? Having fun doesn’t necessarily mean you need an expensive binderfor your layouts.”

“There are a lot of other waysyou can collect and display your photos.” I described and displayed manyexamples. “A child’s board book—use sandpaper to scuff up the shinypages. That’ll make gluing new paper over them much easier. Catalogs and magazines—gluetogether four or five thin pages, cover these with nice paper, and decoratethem. Paper bags—stackfour lunch bags on top of each other, alternating the open side. Fold them inhalf. Open them up to reveal the fold line. Stitch them together at the foldline. Fabric—Cut pieces ofpre-washed cotton fabric in a 12- by 12-inch size or larger. Stack them and sewthem together down one of the edges. Cover that edge with bias binding. Glueyour photos directly onto the material. Toiletpaper roll cones—flatten them, stack them, and punch holes in one of theshort ends. Thread them together with ribbon or a metal ring clip. Each conecan act as a page or a pocket. Ringbinders—buy a package of 8- by 11-inch page protectors and treat the ringbinders like you would any other album. Drinkcoasters—punch a hole in them and attach them to each other pearlnecklace-style with twine, or ribbon or metal rings. Either cover the coasterswith paper or paint them with gesso.”

I paused to see how my ideas weregoing over. My customers were frantically taking notes. The samples I’d puttogether were being examined with great enthusiasm. Maybe the entire eveningwasn’t going to be a bust after all.

But how was I going to find thatmissing recipe? Right then, the front door swung open.

“Don’t look now, but the cavalry has finallyarrived,” said Clancy, and in walked my fiancé, Detective Chad Detweiler.

The scrapbookers seemed willing, so we took a break. Asthey got up from their chairs, I noticed that Lisa Ferguson hesitated.

Could she be hiding something?

But that didn’t make sense.

She had her own Red Velvet Cake recipe. Why would she takeIona’s?

While the women crowded around the food table, I motionedmy husband over to Lisa’s things.

Trying to act casual, I said, “We’ve been working on arecipe album. Lisa? You don’t mind if I show Detweiler yours, do you?”

She froze like a deer when your headlights hit it.

“Uh…no.” Her words didn’t match her body language.

I opened the album and went through it page by page. When Igot to the Red Velvet Cake recipe, I withdrew it and studied it. That’s when Irealized what was wrong.

“Lisa? I think you accidentally glued your recipe cardto Iona’s card,” I said, peeling the two apart. “Iona? Here’s yourmissing recipe.”

Detweiler winked at me. “Good work.”

To my horror, Lisa started crying. “This is all yourfault, Iona. I did it for your daughter-in-law Bethany. She and I have beenfriends for years. Why couldn’t you do the decent thing and share your recipewith her? Your son Mason is leaving Texas and going off to Afghanistan. AllBethany wanted was to make him one of his mother’s famous red velvet cakesbefore he goes. But would you share the recipe with her? No. You’re mean!”

All my scrapbookers turned on Iona.

“Is that true?” asked Avery. “You wouldn’tlet your own daughter-in-law have a copy of your recipe?”

Iona sniffed. “It’s for the women in my family only!”

“Iona!” said one of the other scrapbookers.”How could you?”

A fat tear dripped down the woman’s cheek. “Now that Isee how all of you feel, I realize…I was wrong. That silly recipe doesn’tmatter that much, does it?”

We looked at her and shook our heads no.

“Kiki? Would you make copies of it for everybody?”Iona shoved the card into my hand.

“I’ll be glad to.”

“Since she’s in such a generous mood, see if you canbring a couple of slices home with you tonight. I’m thinking I’d like to sitdown with my wife after dinner and have a dessert,” said Detweiler, andthen he kissed my neck and added, “or two.”



~ The End ~

Although Ilona didn’t want to share her Red Velvet Cake Recipe, I was fortunatethat three of my readers shared these yummy concoctions. Many thanks to allthree!



Carrie Wolfgang’s (Iona’s) Red Velvet Cake Recipe

Cake Ingredients:

1 ½ C. Sugar

2 C. Cooking oil

2 Eggs

1 Tsp. Vinegar

2 Oz. Red Food Coloring

2 ½ C. Flour

1 Tsp. Baking soda

1 Tsp. Salt

3 T. Cocoa

1 C. Buttermilk

2 Tsp. Vanilla


1.Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightlyflour two 9 inch layer pans.

2.Cream together sugar and oil.

3.Add eggs and beat well. Add vinegar and foodcoloring. Beat well.

4.Sift flour, soda, salt and cocoa together.

5.Add flour/soda/salt/cocoa mixture tosugar/oil/egg/vinegar/food coloring, alternating with buttermilk and stirringwell after each addition.

6.Add vanilla and beat well.

7.Pour into greased and floured pans. Bake for30-35 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Frosting Ingredients:

1 Stick of Butter (roomtemperature)

8 Oz. Cream Cheese (roomtemperature)

2 Tsp. Vanilla

1 Lb. Sifted PowderedSugar

1 C. Chopped Walnuts


1.Cream butter and cream cheese together.

2.Add vanilla and powdered sugar. Mix well.

3.Stir in nuts and spread on cake layers.

Special thanks to CarrieWolfgang of Novel Destination-Used Book Emporium for sharing her recipe.

Visit her at


Fay Zerbolio’s Red Velvet Cake Recipe


½ C. Margarine or butter

1 ½ C. White Sugar

1 Egg, beaten

4 T. Cocoa

1 Tsp. Red food coloring

2 T. Strong, hot coffee

2 C. Cake flour

1 Tsp. Salt

1 Tsp. Baking soda

1 C. Buttermilk

1 Tsp. Vanilla


1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flourtwo 9-inch cake pans.

2.Cream together butter and sugar. Add beaten egg.Combine cocoa, food coloring and coffee. Add to mixture and mix well.

3.Sift soda, salt, and flour together. Add flourmixture and milk alternately to chocolate mixture. Add vanilla. Pour into pansand bake for 20-25 minutes.

Icing Ingredients:

3 Squares bakingchocolate

3 T. Butter

5 T. Milk, scalded

2 C. Powdered sugar

¼ Tsp. Salt

1 Tsp. Vanilla

½ to 1 C. Chopped nuts


Melt chocolate andbutter together over low heat. Pour hot milk over sugar, stir to dissolve. Addsalt, chocolate mixture and vanilla. Beat till thick. Add nuts. Frost cake.

Special thanks to FayZerbolio of the Miniature Museum of Greater St. Louis.  Visit them at


Karan Flanscha’s $200 Cake (Red Velvet Cake)


2-3 T. Powdered cocoa

1 oz. Bottle of red foodcoloring

½ C. Crisco

1 ½ C. White Sugar

2 Whole Eggs

2 ¼ C. Cake flour

1 Scant tsp. salt

1 C. Buttermilk

1 tsp. Vanilla

1 tsp. Vinegar

1 tsp. Baking soda


1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flourtwo 9-inch baking pans.

2.Mix cocoa powder with red food coloring. Refillfood coloring bottle with water and add to cocoa/food coloring mix. Mix well.

3.Cream Crisco and white sugar. Add 2 eggs andcocoa mixture. Mix well.

4.Stir together three times: cake flour and salt.

5.Using mixer on low speed, add dry ingredientsalternately with buttermilk to cocoa mixture. Add vanilla.

6.Fold in by hand: vinegar and baking soda. Mixwell. Pour into pans.

7.Bake for about 30 minutes.


Icing ingredients:

1.White frosting from a can

2.½ Tsp. Peppermint flavoring


Mix frosting andflavoring. Ice the cooled cake layers.


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