July 18, 2017

The Malayan Series, Book 2: A review and giveaway

When the Future Comes Too Soon (The Malayan Series Book 2)
by Selina Siak Chin Yoke

I had the pleasure of reading Selina Siak Chin Yoke’s first book in this series several months ago: The Women Who Breathed Two Worlds.

She invited me to read her second book in anticipation of the book’s release today. It was wonderful to be able to squeeze that in some of my rare good moments, and arrange a review and giveaway.

She was gracious enough to give us a bit of an interview, and a giveaway. We’re all winners, here!

Selina Siak Chin Yoke's Malayan Series

Her first novel, The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds, followed the the life of Chye Hoon, an incredible woman who built a business to support her family, embracing her heritage, and trying to pass that on to her own children.

This second novel picks up after Chye Hoon passes, and evoked an entirely different set of feelings as we followed a woman from the next generation, Mei Foong, through the political and cultural changes wrought by the Japanese occupation.

Selina grew up listening to family stories and ancient legends, like I did, speaking four languages, double my childhood repertoire. She always knew that some day she would write but it wasn’t until after she’d spent time as a physicist, banker and trader in London that Selina received the message loud and clear to get on with it. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. As she beat the cancer, she realized it was time to start writing.

I’m so glad she didn’t wait. Her first novel was nothing but an inspiration. Well, an inspiration and a touch intimidating – I’m not sure if I can do my family’s legends justice as she did hers.

Raised in Ipoh, Petaling Jaya (near Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia, Selina later went to school in Kent, England. I had some personal questions to ask her:

Q: Who was your childhood family storyteller?
A: My maternal grandmother, to whom I dedicated When the Future Comes Too Soon. She lived in another town; each time she visited I would pester her for stories. She told me a huge amount and I forgot most of the details – I have an awful memory. Fortunately, I wrote some of it down. On my last visit to my parents’ house, my mother found sheets of handwritten notes that I had made while talking to my grandmother. She told me an astonishing amount! I really wish she were alive – I think she would enjoy my books.

Q: Which stories stuck the most with you, and why, did any of them resonate enough to guide your life choices?
A: My great grandmother’s life story – that of an uneducated woman who started a business and raised children with her earnings – was fascinating because it was so unusual. She was also such a larger-than-life character: people remember being terrified of her even after seventy years! Her story did not guide my life choices, but the protagonist in my first novel is drawn from what I heard about her.

Q: What was your and your family’s relationship with money as you were growing up, a young adult, a fully fledged adult?
A: My attitudes to money and business were, in many ways, formed when I was a child. The Chinese diaspora in South-East Asia is known for its entrepreneurialism. I grew up hearing business being discussed, and I was taught the importance of both earning money and saving it. I was given a piggy bank at the age of three! But I also understood that risks presented opportunities. Many people start business in Malaysia and also invest in stocks. Because our immigrant ancestors began afresh with very little, we celebrate those who have made successes of their lives through hard work and risk-taking.

Q: I said in my first review of The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds that this was the story I have always wanted to write but wasn’t sure how. I’ve saved several unfinished drafts. My grandmother was the woman who raised ten children, supported her village through the war, and met her grandchildren from America only a few times late in life. But her life story that I grew up hearing is part of my soul and the undisputed source of my grit. She and I lived thousands of miles apart but we had similar tempers, similar determination, and similar love of useful containers.

Was there any person in particular that, in writing the Malayan series, you felt that kind of connection to?
A: I have felt a connection to all the strong women in my family. Fortunately, there have been many and they’ve provided me with role models on which I’ve been able to base wonderful stories!

Q: In this second book, you move the lens from one strong woman boldly facing the changes in the world over to a woman of the next generation, learning her strength as she faces a changing world but, it seems she doesn’t quite grasp it until perhaps the very end. I felt so much sadness at the close of When The Future Comes Too Soon. Perhaps I would have felt them even before having children of my own, because I’d come to understand the love my mother bore for her children and how she suffered with that love. Truth be told, that sadness was the biggest reason I needed more time to write this review – I had to sit with it for some time!

Often, authors say that may have intended to take their characters one direction and find them headed in another. Did you have that sense with Mei Foong at all, or was her character consistent in your mind and the story?
A: I’m always touched when I hear how much readers are moved by the stories I’ve written. It’s absolutely true that sometimes, my characters have insisted on doing things I’d never envisaged for them! I anchor my stories on milestone events, and then I write outlines for every chapter. When a character just goes against the grain of my outline no matter what I do, I have no choice but change it. With Mei Foong, this did not happen; she stayed more or less consistent.

While you can read Book 2 without having read Book 1, I do highly recommend you try both.

Now for a chance to read it yourself – please enter to win a copy of Selina’s latest book!

WAYS TO ENTER – Please leave a comment for each item.

1. Add the book to your Want to Read shelf on GoodReads.
2. Please leave a comment sharing who your childhood storyteller was, or who you most admired in your family when growing up. Make sure that you include your name and email address with your comment so we can reach the winner.
3. Bonus! Please share this with your friends who are interested in awesome books and have them include your name with their comment as an extra entry.

Who knows, if we have enough entrants, we’ll see if we can’t negotiate a second winner. 😉

The Fine Print: The winner will be picked by a random number generator on Thursday July 27th. Entries are accepted until Wednesday July 26th, 11:59 pm PST. Open to US readers only this time, sorry international friends!

July 17, 2017

On the home(buying) front: rolling up our sleeves

Rolling up our sleeves, rehabbing an old, neglected house We’re officially the mostly apprehensive owners of a new-to-us home.

Without even taking a breath to let that sink in, we don’t have time!, we’re nose-deep in demolition and renovation work. Our final walkthrough revealed even more work that needs doing, if you can even believe that there’s yet more to do, and it’s been nothing but stress.

My credit card is melting from all the swiping, American Express’s emails about Large Purchases are tinged with a sense of alarm, and let me tell you, Mint.com is JUDGY. Yes, I know our household spending is above average!

The contractors are hard at work tearing out walls, digging out dry rot and black mold, and filtering the air with air scrubbers until it’s habitable.

Our job is collecting all the materials that we need ready for installation once the demolition dust settles. We’ve bought: kitchen appliances, kitchen cabinetry, bath tubs, plumbing fixtures, lighting – soooo much lighting, doors throughout the house, and vinyl windows. We still have to buy kitchen countertops, bath cabinetry, flooring, paints, more lighting there is no end to the lighting purchasing this will be the most well lit home in the universe, tiling, closet doors, and about 23 million other bits and bobs and joes and marks and michaels.

Everyone who isn’t paying the bills says “oh it’s great, you can get the home you wanted, just the way you wanted it!”

I think “When will this horror show be over???”

The money is flowing out so fast, even though I have the ready cash to pay the credit card bill, it’s like watching a tornado slowly rip apart my home. It’s fascinating, and terrifying, and impossible to look away. We came within $900 of my generous credit limit which has never happened before.

Our styles are clashing

For me, and partly for PiC, the worst part of the process (even worse than the spending so you know it’s bad): having to research every single thing we’re going to buy – did you know that there were so many toilets you can buy? Did you know that toilets have lids that opened automatically? Did you know how creepy it was to walk down an aisle of toilets and have them all open their lidded maws as you pass through?

And LIGHTING. Holy mackeral, lighting. PiC spent one Sunday looking at 1000 chandeliers and lamps. That’s not hyperbole. Literally, 1000 lighting options. And that’s only one of 17 research sessions.

The sheer volume is one problem. Our approaches are another.

I research a thing, find out the quality parameters, and armed with a fair amount of information, choose the three I like best and ask PiC to pick his favorite.

PiC researches a thing, researches its history, the history of its history, the entire range of possibilities that exist, he researches down to a molecular level and then presents me with a dozen choices. His way drives me crazy. My way drives him crazy.

Shockingly, we have managed to negotiate our differences with only one tiff so far.

I don’t want him to feel rushed and like he’s compromising on pieces that we both have to live with – I would hear the grumbling for the rest of our natural lives. I also don’t want to feel inundated with information, bombarded in fact, and short circuit every time someone asks me a question because it’s one question too many – some unlucky soul would eventually lose a limb, or a face to my severely compromised temper.

Solution! He is now the man in charge of all the initial research, I only have to give occasional input to steer his selections and then we finalize our choices together. I am the woman in charge of all the money: paying the bills, approving budget for each item, finding discounts and promo codes, tracking all receipts, returns, exchanges, deliveries, and arm-twisting when something goes awry.

On that note… savings!

Or at least savings on spending we had to do – not to be confused with money that we keep safe in the savings account, there to stay, grow, and flourish.

We have ordered a handful of our materials from Build.com and Houzz.com. I was skeptical at first but a friend confirmed that he’d ordered furnishings from Houzz and while it was imperfect, their customer service was good, so I was willing to give them a shot.

How I saved at Build.com: At the time of this writing, you can get 2% off at ebates or 3% cashback at MrRebates. Check both to choose the higher rebate, of course.  That was stacked with a summer sale coupon code, and I asked their chat associate to give me the 5% discount from signing up for the email list which never arrived. They did me one better, assigning a discount that was equivalent to another 7% off the total.

The key here is to create your account and fill up your cart first, stay signed into your account, then hit up the sales associate. If they dig up a good discount for you, ask them to send you the link to the saved cart with the discount instead of letting them complete the order. Close the tab with your own cart, load the link and make sure it’s showing the right items and discount. Close that link, and then go to ebates/MrRebates to reopen Build.com. You should then be able to load the cart from the newly reopened Build.com to show both the discount and proceed with your purchase.

Reminder: Gratitude

Even while the money flows out like heart’s blood, here’s perspective for you: We could be in Make Smarter Decision’s boat – budgeted but without anyone to hire! We have acquaintances who have been paying double mortgages for months and still don’t have a good contractor on board. We know people who chose to manage the whole project themselves and hire the subcontractors themselves, they’re all in a world of hurt. Demand is so high that it’s not uncommon for subcontractors to walk off a job for a better paying one without a word, and they just don’t care!

Yes, we are paying big bucks for this work to be done, but at least it’s getting done. Those folks carrying double expenses have spent nearly half our budget on just owning two properties and that’s before a lick of work has been done.

:: Have you had good or bad experiences with contractors? Are you into Do-It-Yourself for home repairs and renovations? Would you splurge on the best fixtures and appliances and doo-dads if you were outfitting your forever home?

 

July 14, 2017

Finally Friday: chicken noodle soup

Homestyle! My insistence on making the first part of this in the tiny Le Crueset meant that I have to add a box of chicken broth which totally changed the taste.

I didn’t make that mistake with the second and third soups.  Note, I’ve started making the soups smaller and simpler because my soups always turned into thick stews. Play with these proportions to get the right level of soupiness or stewiness for your taste.

Ingredients

8-10 cups of water
1 finely diced onion
2 lbs of chicken or 6 thighs/legs
1/2 cup barley
1 finely cubed carrot
1 finely cubed zucchini
Salt and pepper, to taste
Minced cilantro for garnish if that’s your thing

Directions

Remove skin and fat from bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks. Poach the chicken for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through, then remove it to cool in a serving bowl. Strain the water into a bowl, and put it back in the pot. Set the broth to boil on low, with a dash of salt, plus diced onions and barley for another 20 minutes.

Add carrots and zucchini to the pot, cook for another 6-8 minutes on a low boil. Taste the broth and add salt and pepper if it’s needed.

In a separate pot, cook your pasta shape of choice. Our current favorite is ditalini – tiny tubes! Drain this pasta and toss with some olive oil so it doesn’t stick, set aside in a serving bowl.

Shred the cooled chicken.

Voila! Ready to serve!

Put some chicken and noodles in the bowl first, then pour the veggie soup over the top. Garnish with cilantro if you like it.

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