Paperless Post product review

Oooh, look at me! Aren’t I just the Lifestyle blogger, doing a Product Review?! I never thought that would happen!

I was contacted by Helen, at Anagram Interactive, asking if I’d be interested in trying out Paperless Post, an online card company, and reviewing the product. Although I love getting, and sending, letters, sometimes it isn’t practical – especially timewise – and so Paperless Post seems like an ideal way of sending lovely cards and messages to people,  that are a little (no, a lot!)  more attractive than an email. Of course, there is also the upside that by sending an e-card, you are helping cut down on waste in the environment.

I have used other e-card companies before, and I think that Paperless Post is slightly more expensive in relation to these, although, having said that, there are free options on the PP site – it’s just that these are limited, and less attractive. To buy the PP products, you have to purchase “coins” – these start at $6 for 20 ( just over £4) and each card costs, on average, 4 or 5 coins (though you can choose the “free” options to keep the cost down.) Even so, compared to the cost of a “real” card, and the added postage charges, this comes out as cheap.

You choose the type of card you want (birthday, friendship, wedding etc), and the actual design. Then you can customise it, choosing the envelope, the message etc. that are shown on screen when your recipient receives the card. There is also the possibility to download and use your own photos on certain designs, thus personalising the card even more.

And, unfortunately, this is where my problems started. I know I’m not the most technologically minded person, but I struggled with parts of the customising process. I managed to sort out how to format the text on the actual card, but as for changing the text on the envelope – no. I couldn’t do that. It obstinately remained saying “Sample Envelope Text” – I emailed the Help desk, and swiftly received an automated reply saying (and this put me right off!) “Thanks for reaching out to us!” No, I didn’t reach out to you: I sent you an email. I contacted you. I did not “reach out” to you. Anyway…now I’ve got that off my chest…I’m  waiting a response, which has been promised within one working day.

ETA: The response came very rapidly, and it was helpful, stating as it did: During the Customize process, your sample text will read “Envelope Sample Text”, however, the names you enter on your Add Recipients page are what will populate on the envelope your recipient receives. This was borne out by my friend’s reply which said It did have my name on the envelope! All of which is great, but I don’t think that was plainly stated anywhere as I was customising my card! You’ve got to remember that for some Techno-Idiots things like that aren’t obvious!

However, both the friends I sent cards to liked them. This card evoked the reply “What a lovely card. Bless you, dear friend.”

This is the other card I sent. I thought this was a fun design, in the style of an old fashioned telegram. This one didn’t come with an envelope, so it was a cheaper one to send (and less complicated to manage!)

What PP offers – which certainly isn’t the case with the other e-card company I have used – is the opportunity to send invitations to an event to a large number of people, and to keep track of their replies. I can see how for a large event like a wedding, or birthday party, this could be an invaluable tool. Unfortunately, as I was asked to have this review “live” by 30th April, and so, with the fact I have chemo tomorrow (so will be out for the count until beyond April 30th!)  I’m in no state health-wise to be thinking about parties, I couldn’t test this feature.

There’s also a “Flyer” feature, of which the site says: Use a shareable link to let your guests know about your event—put it on social media, in a text message, or in your email list. Again, you can do this if you’re more computer-savvy than I am!

For professionals, there are also event invitations, company holiday cards to send to clients, and other such items. I can see how this feature could be very useful for companies, both large and small, as these also give the option to manage guest lists, and send out to lots of people.

Regarding the website itself, I would have liked a Home page that explained the process a little. There was no introduction, and I felt rather dropped in at the deep end, as I had to try to work out what was on offer. I didn’t find it a particularly easy site to navigate, and I got very frustrated by the slowness of it to respond to changes I was making (or trying to make!) There were FAQs, and these should have helped me work out what to do, but, in the case of the formatting of the text on the envelope,I don’t think it was made clear enough what I had to do. Although, I am certainly willing to accept that might be a fault with me, not with the site!

Or maybe just a failure with me!!!

 

Another slightly irritating thing is that when I clicked on, for example, “Thank You cards” a paragraph of text popped up, and then almost instantly disappeared again , being replaced by images of the cards on offer. I don’t know what it said, and I couldn’t get it back again!

I can see that for people who are slightly less techno-idiot than me PP offers a good alternative to paper cards.  Reading an interview with the co-founder, Alexa Hirschfeld, she explains that the idea came from her 21 year old brother, who wanted to send invitations for his birthday party, but by internet, because he was going to send an invitation online because that’s how we communicate. Maybe that’s it – I’m not quite of that generation who communicates online all the time!!

Anyway, I must say that the choice of cards is good – there are some really beautiful designs – and I really like the way you can choose a matching background for the card to be displayed on, an interior for the envelope, a “stamp” and postmark (although the choice was mostly limited to US states for these “custom” postmarks) They look very classy and attractive. Now, I will declare here and now that I was lucky enough to be given a number of coins to use on this site in return for an honest review, so I still have credit to use up – I will therefore be continuing to explore what is on offer, and (hopefully) will find that I feel more at ease using it by the end!

Would I recommend the product? Yes, I think so, particularly for events where you are inviting a large number of people and want to manage guest lists and so forth. However, you need to be aware that the price is a certain number of coins per recipient so the costs will soon mount up. But then, it’s still cheaper than sending “real” invitations, and classier than just sending an email. If you want to send a greetings card there are some very attractive choices on the PP site, and I think there are designs to suit most tastes. But you might need to be just a tad more computer savvy than I am to use the site with ease! But don’t take my word for it: why not go to the Paperless Post site(www.paperlesspost.com)* to see for yourself – there’s no obligation to buy!

 

  • I was asked to add “no follow” to my links. Being techno-idiot (as you’ve found out!) I couldn’t follow the instructions. So I’ve removed he links, but given you the website address, so you can go to the site. Or just google Paperless Post…
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Book Review: Dressed for Death in Burgundy ** and a half

I was sent this e-book free of charge (yay!) by Netgalley in return for an honest review.

DRESSED FOR DEATH IN BURGUNDY

by Susan C. Shea

Excuse me while I yawn from sheer tedium. That’s better….

Apparently Catriona McPherson, award-winning author of the Dandy Gilver series, says of this book: Not since my first visit to Louise Penny’s Three Pines, have I encountered a more beguiling fictional world than Susan Shea’s Reigny-Sur-Cannes. With an engaging cast, the rare realistic depiction of a good, modern marriage, a sideways look at a budding mystery-writer, and a real head-scratcher of a murder plot, Dressed for Death in Burgundy is a box of delights!”  I’m afraid this only serves to make me think I have to avoid Louise Penny’s “Three Pines” if Ms McPherson thinks it’s as good as this book. Which I thought was dire.

Although other reviewers think that the descriptions of the French countryside are charming, I’m afraid I found them cutesy and unrealistic – nothing like the French countryside I live in! – and the two main characters really annoyed me. Katherine, a fifty-something American artist (who appeared to do anything she could to actually avoid painting ) and Pippa, who was apparently an author of murder mysteries, but behaved like a 13 year old from an Enid Blyton book, bumbling around like an over grown puppy and “looking for clues” . The two of them discovered information which they did not hand over to the police, and were really irritating!

I certainly wouldn’t call it a “head scratcher of a plot” – I will admit I didn’t guess who dunnit, but by the time we discovered I couldn’t have cared less! Very little seemed to happen, except for Katherine and Pippa returning endlessly – and uselessly – to the scene of the crime to bemoan the fact that there were no clues, (except for those they’d picked up and refused to tell the police about) and then to trot off to have café crèmes in the local bistro. Or buy chocolates and marzipan sweets in the chocolate shop. Finally, it was the police who worked out who the murderer was, without the help of our two hapless “heroines”, who just seemed to get in the way.

This has an average of 4 stars on the NetGalley site, and I honestly can’t understand why. I’m giving it 2.5 stars – it isn’t quite as bad as the book I gave 2 stars to, but as NetGalley doesn’t allow half stars I’m definitely rounding this one down. In my opinion, it doesn’t deserve three stars! I will not be reading any more in the series.

Book Review: Dead Ernest ( **** and a half)

This book wasn’t sent to me free – I paid out good money for this one. (But I think it was less than £2)

The Amazon page reads:
No one had expected Ernest to die, least of all Ernest…
Ernest Bentley was a pillar of the community. But when he suddenly dies of a heart attack his wife Annie refuses to have the words ‘beloved husband’ added to his gravestone. Worried about how she will cope on her own after the bereavement the local vicar, Andrew, starts to visit her.

Before she knows what is happening, Annie finds herself telling Andrew things she has kept hidden for years. Dark secrets that had plagued her marriage to Ernest.
When Annie’s estranged granddaughter, Ophelia, turns up for a visit, the two quickly realise how much they have in common. But when Ophelia meets Andrew, the unhappily married vicar, things start to get very complicated…

What is the truth about Ernest? Why is Annie behaving so strangely now that he is dead? And how can Andrew reconcile his growing feelings for Ophelia with his respect for his religion?

Spanning from the Second World War to the present day, DEAD ERNEST is a poignant, moving and, at times, very funny look at love, marriage and family life, dealing with issues of abuse and heartbreak to make a beautifully sensitive and inspirational novel.

****

I really enjoyed this book – all the characters were sensitively written, and their motivation, their actions, were consistent with what you learn about them. The three main characters are particularly engaging, and I kept reading because I really wanted to now their stories, and how their problems were going to be resolved. As a Christian, I found it good to read about a person’s struggle with their faith handled in a sensitive way, with no beating-around-the-bush.

I won’t say what happens at the end, but I found the conclusion satisfying, believable, and “right”.

This is not a book to set the literary world alight, but it was well-written, and held my interest (so much so, I would read “just one more chapter…” before going to sleep) and made me care about the characters.

This is a solid 4-and-a-half star book. Not as good as the two 5-stars, but better than the 4 star “Rosie” (which I did really enjoy!)

 

Book Review: The Madonna of the Mountains ***

This e-book was sent to me free of charge (yay!) in return for an honest review. So here it is:

THE MADONNA OF THE MOUNTAINS

by Elise Valmorbida

The publisher’s blurb describes this as: An epic, inspiring novel about one woman’s survival in the hardscrabble Italian countryside and her determination to protect her family throughout the Second World War—by any means possible

I suppose that sums up the story neatly enough, although I object to the word “hardscrabble” (what does that even mean?!) (according to my online dictionary it means “involving hard work and struggle.” Which I suppose one could have guessed.) But I think it makes it sound a more engaging book than it is.

Maria, the main character, is a fiercly uncompromising person, and her faith – and thus also her God, and her Madonna – is just as unbending. Although I found the story interesting, the fact that I didn’t really warm to Maria made it a more difficult book to read. Another reviewer writes: I thought that one of the real strengths of this book is that the story is unvarnished. Maria is not portrayed as a romantic figure. Her life is harsh, she has to make difficult choices, and she herself can be quite hard and unbending. But her motivations and emotions seem genuine – survival and love for her children are her prime motivators.

I’m not saying it wasn’t interesting – although I’ve read many books set during WW2, this is the first that I’ve read set in Italy, and thus it was interesting to find out more about Fascism in this country, and how it played out during this period. It was also intriguing finding out about the country food eaten before and during the war, especially with a few recipes given at the end (including, slightly macabrely, instructions as to how the Fascists used salt and castor oil as torture).

I’m not saying it wasn’t well-written – there were some passages of lyrical writing, and the story did pull me along.

And yet…and yet…I just wasn’t engaged as much as I wanted to be. I wanted to really enjoy this book, but at times I felt I was reading it because I felt obliged to. I find it quite interesting that the member reviews on Net Galley are either of the “loved it” or “really didn’t enjoy it” variety. I am in the middle, but wavering more to the negative end. I’m giving it three stars, because it’s nowhere near as bad as my 2-star-review book, but I’m afraid I didn’t really enjoy it.

Telling you about Tuesday (and Wednesday!)

On Tuesday, Mr FD couldn’t decide whether to go cycling or not in the afternoon, so while he was making up his mind, we drove to visit Les Salins, which are former sea salt works. Salt has been “created” here since 4 BC, until about the 1990s. It’s now a bird reserve, where one can see herons, egrets, flamingoes etc. But sadly, not on Mondays and Tuesdays, as that’s when it’s closed!

So, having rattled gates and tried to find alternative entrances, we ttook a photo from the vierwing platform, and decided that instead we would wander along the beach for a while, just enjoying the sunshine, and being with each other.

We headed back about 11.00, and I had a read and a snooze until lunchtime. For lunch there was something, but I can’t remember what! Nope. It’s gone…no idea!

Mr FD had decided that he wanted to go cycling, but not up hills, so he went out with just one other cyclist, along the coast. The others headed inland to climb up hills. I decided to explore Bormes-la-Mimosa, a village about 15 minutes away.

I knew there was a park there, so I hoped to find something to paint, but there was nothing that inspired me. I passed this house, covered in wisteria, which I considered painting, but there was nowhere to sit.

Having wandered through the park, I then explored the village, coming across more picturesque sights:

I treated myself to a banana ice cream (yummy!) and then did a little bit of window shopping in the boutiques and craft shops.

Nothing really caught my attention, so I didn’t feel deprived! This cat was quite photogenic – but not very friendly

Bizarrely, when I returned, there was still a cat sitting by the pot – but it was a different cat! I suppose they must take it in turns to sit and be photographed!

I got home, and Mr FD and I sat on our balcony for a while, in the late afternoon sun, reading. This is the view that we had from our balcony:

At about 6 o’clock we went down to the bar to partake of a couple more Grimbergens & to chat with people.

Dinner was a themed “Fish Night” – so it was Provençale Soupe de Poisson (fish soup), served with grated cheese, croutons and rouille, a slightly spicy, red mayonnaise. I haven’t had fish soup for ages, and had forgotten how much I enjoy it! In fact, it was more “Shellfish Night” as the choices were Moules Marinière, or bulots (winkles). I like mussels, but shouldn’t be having shellfish, as I have lowered immunity at the moment, and shellfish can be a source of problems. Happily, there was a non-fish choice, and I was happy to have duckling instead! A bit of cheese, and a chocolate éclair…Then, tisane, and “The Bridge” before bed!

On Wednesday, we left about 9.00 and drove home, pausing at one of our favourite places for lunch – Aix et TerraWhenever we go south, we try to schedule it so we can stop for lunch either on the way down, or the way back (or both!!)

It’s both a factory, making delicious dips, and tartines, and spreads, and a restaurant, with dishes that showcase the products.

There was an amuse-bouche of black olive tapenade, and then we shared a starter of tartines and crostini. The tartine was a dried tomato paste with coppa, and the crostini was an artichoke spread with melted cheese. Then we both had a burger, served with carrot chutney, and the most delicious chips I think I’ve had in France!

Finally, I had a café gourmande – I have to say, if ever I see this on a menu I usually choose it, as it gives the opportuinity to try several desserts. This one came with a little salted caramel financier, a tiny lemon meringue tart, and a crème brulée au thé des 13 desserts (This tea blend is made with the flavours of the traditional Provençal 13 desserts, eaten on Christmas Day: dried fruits, nuts, marzipan etc) Delicious!

We got home just around 4 o’clock, charged with looking after our friend’s dog, Marvin. Here he is being taken for a walk this morning

 

 

Back home again…

Hello dear readers – I’m sorry I didn’t blog more while I was away, but a mixture of being busy, being tired, and slow wifi meant I couldn’t be bothered. Sorry! That sounds rude, but isn’t meant to be.

We had a lovely time, and I did quite a lot of things, but I have found that this time I’ve been more tired than expected.

So, I left you on Sunday evening…we’d been to the Provençal market in the morning:

a flower stall

a cheese stall

There were lots of fruit stands, selling the most delicious looking strawberries, of which we meant to buy some later in the stay, but sadly we forgot! Never mind… In the afternoon, Mr FD rode, and I stayed in the holiday village. I spent a happy hour painting this little picture of the view across to the sea:

Dinner was perfectly acceptable – it’s not haute cuisine, by any means, but there’s certainly plenty of food, which suited the cyclist and walking groups who were there this week. There was watercress soup, which was nice, and then I chose chicken in a cream sauce, with pasta and veggies. A bit of cheese, and a small portion of gateau. You can help yourself to as much as you wish, so you can imagine that the hungry cyclists certainly went back for seconds! After a short group meting and a tisane, we went back to our room to watch an episode of The Bridge.

On Monday, I decided to spend the whole day at the Botanical Gardens in Rayol, about 40 minutes drive from La Londe. I wanted to go by myself, so I could take my time, pause when I wanted to, and not have to worry about other people. I hada lovely day!

I arrived at about 10.30, and paid my 11€ entry fee. The view from the first terrace was a delight!

I sat there for a few minutes, basking inthe warm sunshine (despite being well covered!) and then wandered off through the gardens. There weren’t a huge number of flowers out, but there were lots of greenery. It’s a large area, divided into different gardens, with plants from different  areas of the world with arid/ dry/ Mediterranean climates. So there’s a South American garden, an Australian garden, a Canary Islands garden…etc

I walked up to the Pergola, and then sat for about 30 minutes, finishing off a zentangle that I’d started a while back. I left it on the seat, weighted down by a pebble, with a note saying “If you’d like this drawing, then please take it…” I don’t know if anyone did.

The view across the sea from where I was sitting was lovely too, so I spent a while just looking, and admiring. Then the wander continued, past flower beds

.

and wood anenomes

Down a shady path to discover a charmingly rustic building beside a waterfall

and then down towards the sea…

This was the view from the little terrace where I sat to read and to eat my lunch. There were seats, and a little house, which had originally been a fishing shack. With the waves lapping on the tiny beach, and the warmth of the sun, I felt quite soporific. The picnic had been provided by the holiday village – I’d already left the tub of lentil salad back in our room, as I hadn’t fancied that, but the rest was OK : a roll, some dried ham, a piece of camembert (which had become very runny in the heat), a bag of crisps, a banana, a cereal bar and a couple of biscuits. After about an hour and a half I set off again to wend my way back upwards… pausng again and again to take in the views

                          

At the top of the climb is this rather impressive house from the 1930s, due for renovation

and along to the North American garden with its impressive cacti

I sat just below this garden to paint another little picture of the view, which gave me another opportunity to rest

Time to head for home, so I slowly meandered back along the paths, taking a photo of this slightly odd plant:

I had a really enjoyable, relaxing day, and would recommend these beautiful gardens to anyone. It was particularly enjoyable because, early inthe season, there weren’t that many people. I can imagine that in the height of summer with crowds of visitors, it might be less pleasant, but no less beautiful!

I got home, and, as the cyclists hadn’t arrived, I went down to the bar for a gin-and-tonic. Then when Mr FD arrived, with some of the others I had a very nice Grimbergen “Printemps” beer.

Dinner was less impressive – it was “Italian” night (although I’m not sure any Italians would have agreed!) – vegetable soup (not even minestrone!), followed by a very mediocre Spaghetti Bolognaise, or cheese tortellini, or a seafood sauce to go with pasta. I didn’t really enjoy anything that I had, sadly. The desserts were either a Tiramisu gateau, or a strawberry gateau – which actually tasted like trifle-as-a-cake! That was nice!

Another meeting, a tisane, and then back to the room to watch another episode of The Bridge, before bed. I was tired, but content, having done just under 3.5 km of walking around the gardens.

I think I’ll tell you about Tuesday another time!

Down South

We arrived yesterday at about 2.00 after a reasonable journey – everyone had arranged to meet up for lunch at a particular service station, whee there’s quite a nice picnic area. I’d made “healthy flapjack” and a raspberry cake to share. I was happy with the cake in particular because I’d adapted a recipe. It is near enough this one however, mine had 150g flour, and no ground almonds. And, instead of rhubarb, and one of the eggs I used two pots of a rather unpleasant peach compote that I’d tried and really didn’t like. It worked – a bit dense but very nice.

After we’d arrived most of the cyclists went off on a ride, but Mr FD decided to stay with me, so we + Paul, an elderly husband who cannot cycle anymore, after having a heart problem two years ago, we went for a drive. In fact we drove up the road where Paul had had his problem – as we got nearer to the Col (and it was a long way up!) he pointed out the spot where he’d almost collapsed. Luckily for him, a driver stopped to ask him if he was OK, and took him to hospital. We had a pleasant drive, and stopped for an ice cream, but were disappointed by the flavours on offer and finally decided not to have one!

In the evening, we had our meal – there is a very good choice of food here. I had asparagus soup, followed by delicious roast beef, gratin dauphinoise, and green beans, then cheese and a slice of coconut tart. After dinner there was a short meeting and then we went back to our room to watch an episode of The Bridge, which Mr FD had downloaded.

As we walked back through the village we were happy to hear the Scops owl which we remembered from our last stay here. However, it made its noise all night! It’s quite a distinctive sound and in the middle of the night, we were slightly less thrilled!

This morning Mr FD & I visited the Provençal market, and also had a walk along the nearest beach – it’s the furthest I’ve walked this week, so I feel a bit tired. Also, I’m having problems with my feet hurting. I’m not sure if this is as a result of chemo – I was told to expect pins-and-needles, but nobody mentioned just sore feet, but I can’t think of any other reason why my feet should be hurting. It’s not like I’ve walked very far!!

We had lunch – cold buffet of crudités, and salads, followed by fish, pasta, mixed vegetables, and a tiny piece of milles feuilles (which was all I wanted!) – and now the cyclists have gone out. As for me, this afternoon, I’m staying in the holiday village, drawing, blogging, sleeping, reading…not exerting myself. It seems the most sensible option.

I have some photos, but the WIFI is very slow, so I’ll upload them when I get home. You’ll just have to imagine it.