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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Kiki Lowenstein and the Penny Pincher

By Joanna Campbell Slan

Editor’s Note: The Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series features a scrapbooking mom whose 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 it for the store. I thought it appropriate,” said my friend Clancy Whitehead, as she handed me a wrapped present. In her tailored brown slacks, ivory silk blouse, and camel-colored cardigan, Clancy was the picture of elegance.
Meanwhile, I’m still wearing my maternity pants with the elastic panels. Although I tell myself that eventually the weight will come off, it’ll probably take forever. It seems like I've been pregnant forever, and frankly I’m feeling a little down. That’s probably one reason that Clancy bought me a gift.
My low mood is silly, because I have so much to be thankful for. My name is Kiki Lowenstein, and I own Time in a Bottle, a scrapbooking and crafts store in St. Louis. I’m the mother of two adorable 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 working full-time, so to say life is “hectic” is an understatement.
Tonight starts the first of our Double-Dip Classes. Like the old Doublemint Gum commercials, we’re offering not one but two fantastic learning experiences. I’m excited about the projects I have planned for our scrapbookers. But I’m also a tad worried, because Iona Lippman has signed up for both classes. She can be a bit rough around the edges.
“Go on,” prompted Clancy. “Open the gift.”
After my fingers carefully pried apart the pink polka dot tissue paper, I discovered an adorable sign nestled inside: “All our guests please us. Some by their coming, and some by their going.”
“Iona is definitely a ‘goer,’” said Clancy. “You can’t please her, Kiki. She’ll always find something to complain about. That’s who she is. So just relax about the classes tonight and try to have fun. Don’t let her ruin the evening.”
“Thank you,” I told my friend, “for everything.”
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. The assignment was for each scrapbooker to bring in a recipe that her family enjoys. A main dish. She should also have a photo of the food. Of course, if that’s not possible, we’ll work with just the recipe and leave a place on the scrapbook page for the photo. I assume all of them have been in to choose their albums?”
“Yes. Iona came in Friday. She doesn’t like the 8- by 8-inch size. She also didn’t like the color of the album cover.” Clancy pulled up a chair across from my big desk. Resting her face on her hands, she shrugged. “I told her you might have suggestions for customizing the cover.”
“I do.”
“What’s the second class?” asked Clancy.
“It’s called Tips from Interior Designers,” I said, withdrawing my handout from the bottom desk drawer. “Many interior designers use a 60-30-10 rule when working with colors. The dominant shade should cover 60 percent of the page, then two other colors would be 30 and 10 percent. I’m also showing the scrapbookers how they can ‘translate’ a photo 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 a lifesaver. Two hours later, after listening to Iona complain non-stop about her album, 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 I could tell, she didn’t even pause to take a breath.
“Not only do I hate everything about this album. I don’t want a recipe book full of main courses. My specialty is dessert.” She pushed my sample album off to one side, as she pouted at me.
I gritted my teeth. “Good. Since Christmas isn't that far away, your assignment is to bring your favorite dessert and its recipe.”
“I’ll bring my Red Velvet Cake,” said Lisa Ferguson.
“No way!” shouted Iona. “I have my great-great-grandmother’s special Red Velvet Cake recipe. It’s been passed down from the oldest daughter to oldest daughter. No one outside the family has ever seen it.”
“Whoa!” I spread my hands in what I hope was a placating gesture. “You can both bring your red velvet recipes. Since these are your personal cookbooks, duplication won’t be a problem.”
“There won’t be any duplication,” sniffed Iona, as she tugged her sleeves over her hands. Her fingers were chaffed and red from the cold. “My family recipe is simply the best. It’s never been copied. Not even close.”
“Suit yourself,” said Lisa, as she adjusted her cowl neck sweater. The weather had been unseasonably bitter. Most of my customers wore boots and gloves. Lisa was no exception. She’d arrived bundled up in a parka.
By contrast, Iona had worn a lightweight wool coat and kept her bare hands shoved deeply into her pockets. I guess she had her anger to keep her warm.
The two women couldn’t have been more different. Iona bragged about every aspect of her life from her husband’s upcoming retirement plans to her own free time for crafting. Lisa had said nearly nothing. Iona was in her mid-sixties, and Lisa couldn’t have been more than thirty. Probably in her mid-twenties. While Iona had lots of free time, I knew Lisa came to our sessions straight from work, and she kept checking the time because her babysitter had to leave promptly at nine.
Usually the age difference is helpful in my classes. Like in the quilting bees of old, women bond and share their experiences. The older generation guides the younger, while the younger imparts an energy and hopefulness that my seniors often have forgotten.
But not this time, and not this group. The age difference only seemed to cause more friction.
“Now that we have the matter of next week’s recipes settled,” I said, “Let’s turn our attention to Part Two of our Double-Dip. If you’d open your page kits, you’ll see I’ve already chosen your embellishments and paper for this cute scrapbook page. Clancy is passing around a copy of HGTV Magazine 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 another customer, Avery Ailes. “I love scrapbooking but, gosh, it’s so expensive. I’ve priced these embellishments. They aren’t cheap.”
Clancy shot me a look over the heads of our customers. I could read my friend’s thoughts as easily as if she’d spoken to me: “Great…now what?”

One week later…

"How's Erik doing?" asked my friend Clancy, as she handed me the supplies for the second of our Double-Dip Classes.
"He still misses his mother and father, but he’s looking forward to Christmas.”
Back in August, Detweiler and I were shocked to get a message that he had a son living in California. Later we learned that his first wife had been pregnant when she ran off and left him. But the boy wasn’t Detweiler’s natural son. Instead, Erik was the child of an affair between his first wife, Gina, and one of Detweiler’s co-workers.
That said, Gina had left specific instructions in her will that if anything happened to her and her second husband, Van Lauber, that she wanted Detweiler to take her child, Erik, home to live with him. Because Detweiler and Gina were still legally married when she gave birth to Erik—and because she put Detweiler’s name on the birth certificate—Erik was legally Detweiler’s child, even though the boy was biracial and not Detweiler's biological son.
One look at Erik and Detweiler had fallen hopelessly in love with the child. I felt the same. Now we were doing our best to help the little 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 of supplies. “He and Anya getting along?”
My daughter had been an only child of thirteen when she learned that 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. She gets that from her grandmother, Sheila.”
My job was to put the pieces in a plastic baggy and slap on our new store label. I was particularly proud of the image—a glass jar filled with watches and the words "Time in a Bottle"—because I'd created the logo myself. Since the watches were every color in the rainbow, the logo went with everything! That was important because we had customers who loved bright colors, those who favored pastels, and some who liked neutrals.
Yes, every guest who walked through our doors was unique in every way, except for one: They all loved saving memories. It was our job to help them do just that.
"No sibling rivalry?" Clancy raised an eyebrow.
"They're adjusting. Erik has bad dreams, as you might imagine. Anya came up with a dream catcher and hung it over his bed. I have no idea 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 an eye at our big black clock. "T-minus ten minutes and counting."
As usual, Clancy was dressed as if she stepped out of a Talbot's catalog. Tonight she was wearing a pink knit top and gray pants. I wondered how long it would take me to get back into “real” clothes.
"I think the women will like the layout I created for the dessert page in their cookbook albums, but the second portion of the evening is bound to be more challenging." Iona and Avery Ailes had complained about the high cost of scrapbook layouts. They had dared me to come up with thrifty ways to create and embellish 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'd done. Just then, the door minder rang. In walked Iona, dragging her Cropper Hopper behind her.
"Showtime," said Clancy.
One session down and one to go. I had managed to keep Iona and Lisa from duking it out over the Red Velvet Cake. Iona's cake really was better. The hints of buttermilk and vanilla were scrumptious. She glowed with pride as we devoured our slices. Lisa said very little as she went to work diligently on her cookbook page. Maybe her feelings were hurt.
Time to move on.
"One of the quickest, easiest and cheapest ways to save money on any scrapbook layout is to make your own embellishments. I'm going to share a few new ideas for raw materials around your house that you can turn into embellishments. Are you ready?"
The women nodded at me with their pens poised to take notes.
"Hang tags from purchases—these I cover with paper or paint with acrylics before adding stickers or stamping on them. Labels from cans—these can be scanned or used as is. Greeting cards—I carefully cut around the images. Sometimes I use Diamond Glaze and a little glitter to spice them up. Old children's books—the images in these are adorable. Use 'as is' or add Diamond Glaze. Pages from old books—either use these as background paper or cut them into the shapes. They also make great flowers! Fabric—glue it or sew it directly to your paper. Scan or photocopy a design you like. Bottle caps—use them flat side down or flat side up. Either way you can add letter stickers. I've also colored them and used them in a row as a border of dots. Styrofoam trays—wash them, dry them, cut them into shapes, and paint them with acrylics. Gift wrap—can be used as background paper or you can select a special image and cut it out. Packaging—I reused the package of the perfume I got for Christmas. I flattened it and cut it into circles for embellishments."
At that point I paused. "Any questions?"
"And if we don't have access to a copier or a computer," asked Avery. "Then what do we do?"
"Use the tape transfer method. Rub packing tape over the 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? Someone stole it from me!"
"Calm down," I said, making placating motions with my hands. "It has to be around here somewhere, Iona. You know how things 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 my faith in human beings, and scrapbookers in particular, I put myself in a ticklish spot. The burden of finding her recipe card now rested squarely on my shoulders.
For the next thirty minutes, we tore the class area apart. All of the classmates participated in the treasure hunt. We went through piles of paper, one sheet at time. We looked in the copier. We opened the paper bags I had taped to each cropper's work space. I even got down on my hands and knees and crawled around on the floor. When the recipe card didn't show up, I expanded our search area. When I bought Time in a Bottle, we didn't have enough space for our classes. The display shelves took up all the available room. To make enough space for our sessions, I'd put those same display shelves on wheels so they could be rolled to one side. Now, I rolled the shelves this way and that, scouring the store for the missing 3- by 5-inch card.
"You don't understand," said Iona, with a hitch in her voice. "That recipe has been in my family for generations. We've passed it down from mother to daughter. I can't go home without it. I just can't!"
She started howling with misery, while her friend Avery Ailes patted her consolingly on the shoulder.
Clancy sidled over to me and whispered in my ear, "You can’t win. You realize that, don't you? If you search each of our customers for the card, you're admitting someone probably took it. If you 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 it out on the store."
My friend was right. And I had no idea what to do next.
"How about if I share a few thrifty ideas for albums?" I said, in an overly perky voice. "Let's give ourselves time to think. Maybe the recipe will show up. In fact, I'll even offer a sweetener. The person who finds the recipe will get a $50 gift certificate to the store."
Yes, it was a lot of money, but I was desperate to save my store's reputation. The potential bribe worked. The women all took their seats and listened intently.
"We all know how expensive albums can be," I said. "And normally I'd be the last person discouraging you from buying a pricey album to showcase your prized family photos."
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 have fun,' right? Having fun doesn't necessarily mean you need an expensive binder for your layouts.”
"There are a lot of other ways you can collect and display your photos.” I described and displayed many examples. “A child's board book—use sandpaper to scuff up the shiny pages. That'll make gluing new paper over them much easier. Catalogs and magazines—glue together four or five thin pages, cover these with nice paper, and decorate them. Paper bags—stack four lunch bags on top of each other, alternating the open side. Fold them in half. Open them up to reveal the fold line. Stitch them together at the fold line. Fabric—Cut pieces of pre-washed cotton fabric in a 12- by 12-inch size or larger. Stack them and sew them together down one of the edges. Cover that edge with bias binding. Glue your photos directly onto the material. Toilet paper roll cones—flatten them, stack them, and punch holes in one of the short ends. Thread them together with ribbon or a metal ring clip. Each cone can act as a page or a pocket. Ring binders—buy a package of 8- by 11-inch page protectors and treat the ring binders like you would any other album. Drink coasters—punch a hole in them and attach them to each other pearl necklace-style with twine, or ribbon or metal rings. Either cover the coasters with paper or paint them with gesso."
I paused to see how my ideas were going over. My customers were frantically taking notes. The samples I'd put together were being examined with great enthusiasm. Maybe the entire evening wasn't going to be a bust after all.
But how was I going to find that missing recipe? Right then, the front door swung open.
"Don't look now, but the cavalry has finally arrived," said Clancy, and in walked my fiancé, Detective Chad Detweiler.
The scrapbookers seemed willing, so we took a break. As they 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 take Iona's?
While the women crowded around the food table, I motioned my husband over to Lisa's things. 
Trying to act casual, I said, "We've been working on a recipe 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 I got to the Red Velvet Cake recipe, I withdrew it and studied it. That's when I realized what was wrong.
"Lisa? I think you accidentally glued your recipe card to Iona's card," I said, peeling the two apart. "Iona? Here's your missing recipe."
Detweiler winked at me. "Good work."
To my horror, Lisa started crying. "This is all your fault, Iona. I did it for your daughter-in-law Bethany. She and I have been friends for years. Why couldn't you do the decent thing and share your recipe with her? Your son Mason is leaving Texas and going off to Afghanistan. All Bethany wanted was to make him one of his mother's famous red velvet cakes before 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't let 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 I see how all of you feel, I realize…I was wrong. That silly recipe doesn't matter 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 can bring a couple of slices home with you tonight. I'm thinking I'd like to sit down with my wife after dinner and have a dessert," said Detweiler, and then he kissed my neck and added, "or two."

~ The End ~

Although Ilona didn't want to share her Red Velvet Cake Recipe, I was fortunate that three of my readers shared these yummy concoctions. Many thanks to all three!


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 lightly flour two 9 inch layer pans.
2.     Cream together sugar and oil.
3.     Add eggs and beat well. Add vinegar and food coloring. Beat well.
4.     Sift flour, soda, salt and cocoa together.
5.     Add flour/soda/salt/cocoa mixture to sugar/oil/egg/vinegar/food coloring, alternating with buttermilk and stirring well after each addition.
6.     Add vanilla and beat well.
7.     Pour into greased and floured pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Frosting Ingredients:

1 Stick of Butter (room temperature)
8 Oz. Cream Cheese (room temperature)
2 Tsp. Vanilla
1 Lb. Sifted Powdered Sugar
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 Carrie Wolfgang of Novel Destination-Used Book Emporium for sharing her recipe.


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 flour two 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 flour mixture and milk alternately to chocolate mixture. Add vanilla. Pour into pans and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Icing Ingredients:

3 Squares baking chocolate
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 and butter together over low heat. Pour hot milk over sugar, stir to dissolve. Add salt, chocolate mixture and vanilla. Beat till thick. Add nuts. Frost cake.

Special thanks to Fay Zerbolio 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 food coloring
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 flour two 9-inch baking pans.
2.     Mix cocoa powder with red food coloring. Refill food coloring bottle with water and add to cocoa/food coloring mix. Mix well.
3.     Cream Crisco and white sugar. Add 2 eggs and cocoa mixture. Mix well.
4.     Stir together three times: cake flour and salt.
5.     Using mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk to cocoa mixture. Add vanilla.
6.     Fold in by hand: vinegar and baking soda. Mix well. Pour into pans.
7.     Bake for about 30 minutes.
Icing ingredients:

1.     White frosting from a can
2.     ½ Tsp. Peppermint flavoring


Mix frosting and flavoring. Ice the cooled cake layers.


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