Kiki Lowenstein and the Sweetest Gift by Joanna Campbell Slan

love-die-neighborA sad little boy snuggled next to me on the spare bed in the guest room. Heat radiated from Erik’s body and a wet whistling sound came from his stuffy nose. “Mama Kiki, I doh-ne feel too good,” he whimpered. “My troat hurts. My dose hurts.”

“I know, honey. I know. Try to get some sleep.” I hugged him close. Because I am his adopted mother, he calls me “Mama Kiki” when he is tired or when he doesn’t feel his best. I don’t mind. He will always miss his birth mother, Gina, who died in a tragic accident. More and more he turns to me when he needs a cuddle, but once in a while, he’ll cry for no apparent reason as her memory surfaces and breaks his heart all over again.

“Oh-tay, Mama Kiki,” he said, as he rolled on one side so he could breathe. I rubbed his back gently. Soon he snored and snuffled his way to dreamland.

In hopes that Erik’s head cold would not get passed around, we’d kept him isolated from the other kids. My oldest, Anya, was spending the weekend at her best friend’s house. Ty, the baby, was staying at my in-laws’ house in Illinois. My husband was working a double-shift so he’d have time off for Christmas.

Although I hate missing any days of work at my scrapbook and crafts store—especially in the run up to the holidays–I love spending time with Erik. Even when he doesn’t feel good. When he woke up, I brought him a bowl of chicken noodle soup. A hand on his forehead proved his temp was normal. His eyes were bright and mischievous. Like most kids do, he had bounced back quickly from his malady.

“I is bored,” he announced, after drinking the broth from his second helping. “What can we do? Can we make things? For gifts? For Anya and Ty?”

I pride myself on being crafty, turning trash into treasures. Therefore, I could not possibly tell him no. Instead, I reviewed the supplies I had and brainstormed what sorts of gifts we could conjure from those raw materials. In a flash, the answer came to me—personalized tree ornaments! And I knew just what to use as the basis for our creations: wooden clothespins. Brawny, our Scottish nanny, had recently purchased a new package.

After retrieving a half-dozen of the pegs, I taped waxed paper over the kitchen table. Erik helped and the job went quickly. Next I dragged out all my acrylic paints, lightweight cardboard, markers, tape, pipe cleaners, scrapbook paper, tacky glue, and scissors. Finally I retrieved the bag of fabric scraps we save for projects like this one. Opening my iPad, I suggested that Erik think about what each family member might like. For my husband, Detective Chad Detweiler, Erik chose a cop. I found an image online. Using that as a guide, Erik painted the clothespin’s face and added navy fabric trimmed with gold to copy the uniform. It was cute as all get-out. For his sister Anya, he chose a girl soccer player with a ponytail made of yellow embroidery floss. For Ty, he fashioned a baby with a big blue diaper and a pacifier made of paper. For Brawny, there was a figure in a kilt.

“Go away,” he told me. “You has to be surprised.”

Heeding his instructions, I turned my attention to loading the dishwasher and folding laundry. “You can look,” he said at last while waving his arms over four small packages and one larger one wrapped in tissue paper.

The size of the big present didn’t make sense to me, but rather than question Erik, I said, “How about we put your gifts under the tree? Did you label them? Good. Okay, let’s get you back to bed.”


Christmas morning dawned cold and rainy, but inside the house we were toasty warm. Detweiler and I had gotten up early to put the last touches on the kids’ gifts. Brawny had joined us to slide a breakfast casserole into the oven. The delectable aroma of sausage, cheddar cheese, and onions mingled with coffee as it brewed. In our great room, the fireplace glowed as real logs snapped and crackled. We could hear Erik’s slippers slap the floor as he ran into Anya’s bedroom and woke her up. Their collective squeals echoed down the stairway. Footsteps pounded their way down the staircase. Baby Ty woke up with a wail, and Brawny raced upstairs to fetch him from his crib.

As the kids danced around the kitchen table, they shouted, “Merry Christmas!” Detweiler grabbed up Erik and added a few baritone “ho-ho-ho’s” for good measure. Anya threw her arms around my neck and hugged me tightly. Rather than force the kids to sit through breakfast, we adjourned to the family room. As soon as Brawny appeared with Ty on one hip, Anya and Erik were given permission to open their gifts. In the blink of an eye, colorful paper was ripped off boxes. There followed cries of delight and shouts of joy.

“For you,” said Erik, as he handed out his wrapped parcels. Brawny’s eyes filled with tears as she marveled at her tiny Scotswoman before hanging it on the tree. Anya was delighted with her soccer girl and found an empty spot for the player between two branches. Detweiler laughed and praised his son for the uniformed cop before perching the ornament on a limb near the tree top. Brawny opened Ty’s gift and then hung it up before the baby chewed on it.

“Dis is for you.” Erik waved the big parcel at me.

Resting it in my lap, I slowly untied the gold ribbon and peeled away the blue tissue paper. Inside were two figures. Their pipe cleaner arms were entwined, and they held each other tightly. One had red embroidery floss for hair and the other had dark golden yellow. One had green eyes and the other blue. To the back of their white fabric dresses, Erik had glued wings cut from cardboard and painted gold. These were trimmed in gold pipe cleaners.

“Twin angels?” I held the figures up and everyone looked them over.

“Can’t you see?” Erik pointed to the clothespin with red floss and green eyes, “Dis is Mama Gina.” Next he pointed at the figure with golden yellow floss and blue eyes. “Dis is Mama Kiki. They is angels. My angels. Put them at the top of the tree so they can watch over us.”

~The End~

Love, Die, Neighbor is the 13th book in the Kiki Lowenstein mystery series, published by Spot On Publishing, December 2016.

A Prequel to the Mystery Series that has won the hearts of fans all over the world!

As the mother of an active toddler and the wife of an often-absent husband, Kiki Lowenstein already has both hands full. But when the Lowensteins move into their new house on the same day the construction crew leaves, Kiki must learn to juggle boxes, baby, and big expectations. Her determination to be a good neighbor hits a serious roadblock when she angers the Nordstroms, the couple who live next door. Then Sven Nordstrom dies under mysterious circumstances, and Kiki is forced into the one role she never planned on playing: amateur sleuth.

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About the author
Joanna Campbell Slan’s most recent book is Love, Die, Neighbor: A Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series Prequel. The first book in this series—Paper, Scissors, Death–was a finalist for the Agatha Award. There are now thirteen books and nearly 30 short stories detailing Kiki’s life. Learn more at

All comments are welcomed.

Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a Kindle edition of Love, Die, Neighbor. The giveaway ends January 2, 2017. Good luck everyone!

85 responses to “Kiki Lowenstein and the Sweetest Gift by Joanna Campbell Slan

  1. Barbara Hackel

    Oh how I love this series! Sweet little Erik and all he has been through is such a great addition to the family. Joanna, I can’t wait to read this one. Thanks for the generous opportunity to win a copy. Dru Ann, another wonderful post!😊

  2. Looks like a great book. With Kids and Animals It’s probably great. thanks for sharing and for the chance to win.

  3. I loved the Christmas story! Joanna paints a clear picture of a beautiful family celebrating their love for each other. The ending brought tears to my eyes. Such a heartwarming tale!
    Thank you,Dru, for also giving us an opportunity to win Joanna’s new book!

  4. I have already order my copy but I still want to say how much I appreciate the story! It is wonderful! Thank you!!!

  5. I’m crying already from the blurb. Nothing better than a feel good crying book!

  6. I enjoy reading your stories. The way Kiki’s family has grown over the years is just as interesting as the individual stories themselves. It is wonderful to see how each new member is welcomed whether they have 2 legs or 4.

  7. Thanks for providing information about Joanna Campbell Slan’s newest book. I am excited to get my hands on this latest one. Your blog is the bomb.

  8. That is utterly delightful! How very sweet.

  9. I’ve been waiting *impatiently* for your next Kiki book! It’s amazing how one can get attached to characters in a book! I am so happy I found yours!!

    • Kathy, I agree about getting attached to characters. And knowing that all of you care means the world to me. That’s why when I hear that you shared one of my books with a friend, I get a thrill.

  10. conniepsaunders

    Thank you for this SWEET story. Happy New Year!

  11. I really enjoy this series and author, looking forward to reading this latest book. I take care for my grandson when he’s sick and can’t go to school, so I can relate. Thanks

    • Yup. I once knew a V-P who didn’t have kids. She couldn’t understand why it was so important for moms and grandmothers to be home with a sick child. But WE know that little ones need comfort as well as care.

  12. Can’t wait to read Love, Die, Neighbor!! I absolutely love all of your books Joanna and love catching up with everyone. The Christmas story was beautiful!

    • Thank you so much, Cindy! Since LOVE, DIE, NEIGHBOR is a prequel, it seemed odd to go back in time and then also write this, going forward in time. I guess that makes me a time-traveler, tee-hee.

  13. Shortie Warren

    The short story is the first of yours I’ve read, it won’t be the last!!

  14. This is a great series. Can’t wait to read “Love, Die, Neighbor”. Thanks for the chance. Happy New Year!

  15. Stella Carsten

    Oh thank you for the free story. I appreciate all you do for us readers. You are so awesome.

  16. The prequel short story was perfect. I love a short story to take an occasional break.

  17. I loved your little Christmas Story, it was very touching.

  18. Nancy Roessner

    I love the Kiki series, so the ending of this short story brought tears to my eyes.

  19. Lovely Christmas story!

  20. I recently received a book in this series as a gift. Love it.!!! Plus case keep them coming!!!!!!!

  21. What a wonderful story, Joanna. Great sense of Christmas Eve and Day that evoked some of my childhood memories. You can really tell a short tale.

  22. What a sweet story. It brought tears to my eyes.

  23. Joanna, thank you for allowing me to read Kiki Lowenstein short story. I loved it. As a matter of fact, I am going to order the next book. Thank you again.
    I am always looking for new authors.

  24. This is such a heart warming story. I had it figured out, wrong! Love your books and short stories.

  25. I really enjoy your stories.

  26. Susan Slovinsky

    Heartwarming story. New author to me which I am definitely adding to the TBR list. Thank you.

  27. What a heartful Christmas story! I just now met Kiki’s delightful family and can sense that I’ll love each of them as I read more about Kiki’s adventures.

    Thank you, Joanna. Thank you, Dru.

  28. Joanne Kocourek

    This sounds like the perfect combination for a great book!served

  29. Thank you for a good cry I love your books can’t wait for the next book. Always keep writing

  30. What a sweet little story, Joanna! I’d give anything to have those days back, of stuffy noses and hand-made ornaments! I can’t wait for the new book, if I can figure out how to sign up for it. And BTW, I finally made it to the miniatures museum in St. Louis this week! What a treasure! Even my whole three-generation family loved it. I’m also guessing that it has expanded since you’ve seen it, hmmm?!

    • Hmm. I saw it two years ago, and even then, I was blown away. That museum is a treasure, isn’t it? As for signing up for the book, I think Dru Ann will probably randomly choose a commenter. Remember: Today and tomorrow, you can buy a copy for 99 cents. Why not send a copy to a friend who could use a little cheer for 2017? Just go to Amazon and LOVE, DIE, NEIGHBOR and click the “gift” button.

  31. Great story, love it!

  32. I really enjoyed this post & have to add this series to my reading pile. Thanks for the great intro, it really made the series stand out and want to read it sooner than later.

    • Doward, thank you! There are thirteen books in the series, plus 30-some short stories. (Some are long enough to be novellas.) Next year we hope to completely repackage them to make them easier to follow in terms of what comes next.

  33. Sally A. Peckham

    I really enjoyed your story! Kids are the sweetest and most often, the most thoughtful. Kids bring such joy with their innocence. Thanks for this wonderful tale! 🙂

  34. Such a sweet little story Joanna. I do love your stories about Kiki. I must get back to reading all your stories, had a break for a while, due to unforeseen circumstances. 🙂

  35. Lovely little Christmas story! Thanks for sharing. Happy New Year! Blessings & hugs!

  36. What a great story to read on New Years Eve. Thanks for keeping your characters true. Happy 2017! Pam

  37. Jaybee (June Brinks)

    Thanks for the Christmas tale–so heartwarming. What brought me to Kiki in the beginning was the St. Louis connection; what has kept me coming back is Kiki herself, watching her love grow for her special policeman, seeing the changes for the better between Kiki and her mother-in-law and the wonderful additions to the family including a delightful nanny. The helpful scrapbooking hints are an extra special plus.

    • June, I miss “the Lou,” but I love living here in Florida where I never have to worry about snow! Glad to hear that you like the scrapbooking hints. I now provide a free file with recipes and craft ideas for most of my books.

  38. This really was a heartwarming story, as the above responder said. I think I’m going to enjoy your series. Thanks!

  39. I love this short story, it had me at tears part of the time. I love this series I’m buying up the e-books for this series. Though I have read part of this series from the library. I want my own plus all your short stories too. I have to start over it’s been awhile. Lol , I so happy your continuing with the Kiki mysteries. On your old website you had a book list of the order the books fall in with the short stories. Do you still have this list? Thanks for the short stories you have on both series. I would love to win this.

  40. You can read the entire Kiki Lowenstein and the Missing Gift short story here. I wrote it as a serialized short story, but I might have messed up some of the links before. Enjoy!

  41. Peggy Hyndman

    I’ve read several books in this series and enjoyed them. Love, Die, Neighbor sounds great. Thank you for this chance.