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Do you want a fun and easy recipe that will surprise and delight your Thanksgiving guests?

Try: Pumpkin Magic Cake

I found this recipe online at JoCooks.com and modified it fit our tastes.


For the Cake

  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil

For the Pumpkin Pie

  • 15 oz pumpkin canned
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (I felt this out, as I bought pumpkin pie mix by mistake)

For the Frosting

  • 5.1 oz instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup milk cold
  • 1 container dairy-free coconut whipped topping (or Cool Whip is you prefer), or substitute whipping cream (8 oz) prepared to your liking.


Preheat Oven to 350°F.

  1. Prepare the Cake: Mix according to package instructions or using the ingredients in the cake layer, then pour into a lightly greased 9x13-inch cake pan. DO NOT BAKE. Set aside.
  2. Combine wet ingredients: In another bowl whisk together the ingredients for the pumpkin pie layer until smooth. Slowly pour the pumpkin pie mixture all over the cake mix. Do not mix.
  3. Bake: Carefully place the cake pan into the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes or until the center is no longer jiggly and a toothpick inserted into cake mix comes out clean. NOTE: The cake might be slightly darker than normal so don't worry, it's not burnt. You'll notice the cake layer is on top now. Let the cake cool to room temperature.
  4. Make the Frosting: Place the vanilla pudding mix into a large bowl, slowly pour in the cold milk. Whisk until combined and starts to thicken. Gently fold in the whipped cream/topping until it's completely combined. Spread on top of the cooled cake.
  5. Serve: Cut into slices and serve immediately or chill the cake for a couple hours.

I served this a few weeks ago and everyone raved about it. Light and delicious, it’s got the pumpkin pie taste without the bother of a crust. I believe it will be a new family tradition for the Salonen clan.

Remodel update:

We’ve made giant leaps.

  1. The waterproof flooring is down.
  2. All windows replaced and trimmed.
  3. Painting is complete—minus some touch-up.
  4. Water heater installed.
  5. New light fixtures and fans installed.
  6. Office finished.

What’s left?

  1. We’re waiting on delivery of the kitchen cabinet uppers.
  2. Install countertops.
  3. Appliances.
  4. The “mini-splits” (heating and cooling) needs the top-out. There could be a Covid-related supply chain issue here, but hopefully we’ll have them soon!
  5. Finish exterior siding and paint.
    6. Move in. 😉

Photos: top, Deb—AKA Shellac-Girl--refinished the office cabinets; middle, JP used his cool new tool to complete the flooring; bottom, Paul replaced the last old window with an energy-efficient new one. Although the original window held a certain charm, the harsh reality is single-pane glass in a steel frame is NOT conducive to energy efficiency or noise dampening. The new window is all those things and more.

The last snippet from our CUPID TO THE RESCUE anthology is MINE. I’m the reason one of our rejected taglines was: Seven dogs and a donkey…because even an ass deserves love. LOL. There’s one in every crowd, right? 😉

My love of donkeys goes way back. Here’s a photo I took of my daughter and granddaughter Poppy meeting a friend’s sweet donkey.


Paige Jackson’s volunteer sabbatical in Prospect Creek goes from bad to redonkulous when retired bull rider TJ Huey delivers a pregnant and abused donkey to Paige’s care. But neither cowboy nor city gal is immune to the matchmaking skills of a rescue donkey named Miss Valentine.


Her Cowboy Valentine © Debra Salonen


       “Paige, honey, it’s not healthy for a woman your age to spend all her time inside. You can’t let that blogger turn you into a xenophobe.”
       Paige Jackson looked at her mother’s image on her phone’s FaceTime app and smiled—for the first time in days. Or has it been weeks? “I think you mean agoraphobe, Mom. Xenophobes fear people of other nationalities. The blogger-from-hell is a red-blooded American, and I’m not afraid to leave the house, I just don’t want to be part of the media feeding frenzy Miss Zootropia has unleashed.”
       Paige wasn’t sure what significance the blogger’s name held, nor did she care. The woman’s anger both fed off and added to the #MeToo furor. Normally, Paige could empathize with the woman’s pain, but naming Paige, “The Facilitator” to Brad’s philandering, when she was dealing with her own loss and anguish only added insult to injury.
       “She has no right to blame you for her sister’s suicide. Yes, it’s sad and upsetting that a young woman would take her own life because your ex-husband broke her heart. But who put you in charge of Brad Bryson’s dick?”
       Paige reached for her water bottle to hide her cringe. “It was pretty apparent I lost any influence over that body part two girlfriends ago.”
       “The low-life scum. I never liked him.”
       Not true. “Mom,” Paige said gently. “Brad and I had a pretty good life together for ten years. Fifteen, if you count film school. And think of all the glamorous events you attended as my date when Brad was on location. We went to the Oscars, for heaven’s sake. How many of your friends can say that?”
       Her mother’s still-pretty face scrunched up. “Zero. But that doesn’t stop them from whispering behind my back, now. Maybe I’ll join you at Betty’s.”
       Betty McFee. The reason for this call. An old friend looking for someone to housesit while she checked something off her bucket list.
       Mom had forwarded Betty’s email the day before. The second anniversary of Sophia’s death. Paige hadn’t opened her computer all day.
       Paige picked up the phone and moved to her kitchen desk. She opened her laptop, which she’d used that morning to write a letter to her daughter. Her therapist had suggested it. “Tell Sophia what’s going on in your life and how much you wish she were part of it.”
       Today’s missive missed that goal by a mile.
       She opened her email, scrolling past the hate mail, death threats, and kind words of support from old friends. None of it mattered. “Here it is.”
       She read the back and forth between the two friends quickly. Neither woman was verbose. Basically, it came down to: “Can you help me out?”
       “No, but my daughter might.”
       “Did you say Betty’s place is off the grid?” Music to my ears.
       “Sort of. She’s got power. But she has to go to the Prospect Creek library to use the internet.”
       Prospect Creek. Paige had a vague idea where it was located. In the Sierras, close to Yosemite National Park. “Didn’t we stop at Betty’s place on our way to Santa Barbara after Dad died?”
       “Yes, we did. Betty and I were best friends in elementary school. She’s got ten or twenty acres just outside the town. We’re Facebook friends, now.”
       Paige didn’t remember much from that trip. She’d been a moody, unhappy thirteen-year old who blamed herself for her father’s death. It had taken Mom a year to sell Dad’s business, the house, and her craft shop, but, as she told Paige, “Sometimes you just have to start over from scratch in a place where nobody knows your sad history.”
       “Betty always wanted to be a vet, like your dad, but her family was poor and she didn’t really fit in at school. We lost touch for a while after my folks moved to Utah, but we reconnected at a class reunion. She’d done really well for herself in San Francisco. Can’t remember what exactly, but she saved her money, bought some land in the mountains and opened a rescue for animals.”
       A cold chill passed down Paige’s spine. Horses?
       “That turned into a sanctuary for kids. They all called her Aunt Betty.”
       Aunt Betty. Would I have taken Sophia to meet her one day?
       “Why does she need a house sitter?”
       “She’s signed up to help with a wild mustang roundup in New Mexico. She’ll be gone most of February. I’d go up myself, but I’ve got that hammertoe surgery at the end of the month. No way I’ll be ambulatory by Valentine’s Day.”
       Valentine’s Day. Her favorite holiday back when she considered herself in love. Candlelight and romance. The visually demonstrable tradition that confirmed love existed between two people.
       Stupid fool.
       “Text me her contact info, Mom. You’re right. I need to get out of my rut, and a month in the mountains sounds perfect. Hopefully, the paparazzi will have found other targets by the time I come home.”
       She glanced around the house, which was now in escrow. She and Brad had entertained some of the biggest names in Hollywood here. She wouldn’t see a dime from the sale since Brad’s company owned it, and that company was on the brink of bankruptcy. She’d leave their marriage with a car, her jewelry, and enough money in the bank to cover her health insurance and living expenses for five years—half the number they’d been married. Her lawyer had asked for all ten, but according to Brad, only five of those years had been good and he had no intention of paying for the bad.
       She’d agreed to the settlement because he was right. From the moment she decided to have a baby, their married life had changed. Two years of fertility treatments, nine months to grow a baby, three to watch her struggle to live, followed by two years in a fog of mourning. Paige grew up; Brad didn’t. And after Sophia died—when Paige needed his love and support the most, Brad turned to work, drugs, and other women.
       She stared at the bones protruding from her wrist. She was skinny, pushing forty, and recently divorced, with a career in limbo and a social media target on her back. Housesitting in the mountains—without the constant, judgmental scrutiny of society—might be exactly what she needed to figure out what to do with the rest of her life.
       Her phone dinged with a text.
       “That was fast, Mom.”
       “Call her.”
       Paige did.
       The phone call didn’t last long.
       “I need someone right away.”
       “I can do that.”
       “I’ll send you directions.”
       “I’ll send you my CV.”
       Paige attached the one-page outline of her history that she’d just finished updating to send out to prospective employers. She’d even attached her new headshot—a selfie taken in the backyard that morning. No makeup, save for a bit of mascara and lipstick. No glamour photographer with an airbrush for her this go-round. She wasn’t trying to fool anyone. She wanted a new beginning, and this time it would be on her own terms.


And so it begins…

I have a “newsletter exclusive” snippet to share before release day that will include the donkey, “Miss Valentine,” and my hero.

I had so much fun writing this story. I can’t wait for you to read it, and to that end, I have an allotted number of review e-copies of the anthology if anyone is interested. Email me at debsalonen@gmail.com and I’ll shoot you a BookFunnel link to download a copy.

Don’t forget: the preorder price of 99¢ is only available for a short time. Feel free to share the love—and links.



Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Apple Books
Release Date: January 5, 2021

Last week's Q&A was: Q&A: Are you a night owl? Yes or No.

Nearly 90% of those who replied confessed to being a Night Owl. Since I’m firmly in the early-to-bed/early-to-rise group—except when I get caught up in a book, I was surprised. 😉

My two randomly selected winners this week are:

Teresa Fordice
Kathy Schnitz

(Teresa and Kathy congrats. Please email me your pick of either a $5 Starbucks or a $5 Amazon gift card.)


No “Q & A” this week since it’s Thanksgiving and I plan to devote the whole day to feasting and relaxing with my family. I hope the same applies to you.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING from the Salonen clan

Regular newsletters resume on December 3.

Take care, stay well, and give thanks, my friends,


Dec 3: let the holiday reading specials begin!



Copyright © 2020 Debra Salonen