My Contest and Sweepstakes Hobby – Part 3

If you’ve read my previous two posts on entering contests and sweepstakes, you learned how to prepare for entering and where to find online contests and sweepstakes to enter. Besides the contest and sweepstakes websites I mentioned in my previous post, there are also plenty of opportunities to win via social media.

Have you ever been scrolling through your Facebook feed and noticed a sponsored post offering a chance to win something? When you click on “Sign Up” or “Learn More,” you’ll have the chance to enter the contest. Often, these social media contests and sweepstakes are sponsored by a brand you’ll recognize. If not, I strongly suggest right-clicking on the brand’s page and opening the link in a new tab. From there, you can take a look at the brand’s Facebook page to see if it appears legit. A legitimate brand should have contact information on their Facebook page, including a location, website and phone number. If a brand doesn’t have this information, you may want to refrain from providing your contact information or access to your Facebook profile information.

Instagram is another social media platform whose brands offer contests and sweepstakes. Entering on this platform often entails liking accounts and/or tagging friends in the comments. There may also be a form to capture personal information. Again, be sure to look into the brand and make sure they are reputable before handing over your contact information.

In general, the only information a social media contest should be asking for is information necessary to contact you if you win (i.e. name, address, phone number, email address). Be very leery of brands asking for information that could be used to hack or modify online accounts, such as social security number, last four digits of a credit card number, high school name, mother’s maiden name, etc.

Unless you are entering a raffle that requires a charitable donation, which should be explained up front, you should never be asked to provide a payment or credit card information in order to enter an online or social media contest or sweepstakes. Likewise, you should never be asked for credit card information or any kind of payment if you win a contest or sweepstakes. This is one of the main ways to determine that a “win” is actually a scam. Legitimate online contests and sweepstakes do not require a purchase, and should state in their terms and conditions, “no purchase necessary.” You also should not be asked to participate in any type of timeshare presentation, phone call or Skype call in order to claim a prize.

So what does a legitimate contest win look like? When I win trips or other large prizes, I typically receive a personal email from an individual who works for a promotion or marketing company. This email will state the prize I have won, the contest name, and may ask that I respond within a certain amount of time to confirm that I plan to accept the win. Sometimes the person will attach a tax document, which is used to provide a 1099 form at the end of the year. Wins over $400 are required to be reported as income, and should be added to your income when you prepare your income tax return by providing the 1099 form to your tax professional. I typically remember the contest and having entered it. I can Google the name of the contest or prize online and find it quickly. The sponsoring brand should be mentioned in the email.

A scam “contest win” email will typically have a clickbait subject line, like “You Won an iPhone! Open now.” There won’t be an individual’s name or contact information, and there often won’t even be a brand or sponsoring organization name. There may be a link you are prompted to click and fill in personal information, which can later be used by hackers or sold to additional spammers. It might be a timeshare scam, where you’re told that you’ve “won” a hotel night or two if you attend a timeshare presentation. You may be asked to pay a fee to “claim your winnings.” If you do, you may find your credit card or Paypal account compromised.

It never hurts to do a little bit of verification before providing your personal information for any contest or sweepstakes win. If you’re concerned that your winner email may not be legit, don’t hesitate to do a Google search for the marketing or promotions company mentioned in the email. Call them and ask for the person who contacted you. That way you can verify the win is legitimate and also ask any questions you may have about the win.

Good luck, and tune in next time for information on what to do once you’ve won!

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Richmond’s French Food Festival

As a Francophile, I knew I had to take my kids to Richmond’s French Food Festival last weekend. The Festival is a mission of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who assist the elderly poor with independent and assisted living as well as nursing care. Richmond has plenty of food festivals, from Greek to Indian and every type in between, but the French Food Festival was a great opportunity to try foods from all regions of France and introduce my kids to some French culture.

There were bouncy houses for my younger son to play in and a marketplace full of vendors to explore with items from gourmet foods and home decor to clothing, books and more.

For lunch, we tried a bunch of different things:  Ratatouille, Beef Bourguignon and Coquilles St. Jacques for lunch and crepes and la glace (ice cream) for dessert.

The food was delicious and my kids enjoyed trying new things, especially the desserts!

 

Quick and Easy Southwestern Chicken and Veggie Skillet

This delicious and easy-to-make dish is perfect for the whole family. You can serve it with some Mexican or Spanish rice, or just a loaf of crusty bread. It was a great excuse for me to use my mandoline slicer too.

Heat 2 tbsp. of vegetable oil on medium heat in a large skillet. Dice two cloves of garlic and add them, plus salt and pepper to taste and 2 tbsp. of powdered Mexican or Southwestern seasoning mix to the pan. Dice a pound of chicken breast and cook it in the skillet until brown, then add a drained can of corn, 2 to 3 zucchinis, sliced thin, one small green pepper and one small red pepper, sliced. Cook the skillet, stirring frequently, until all the vegetables are cooked and everything has soaked in all the seasoning.

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Quick Southwestern Chicken and Veggie Skillet

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, diced

dash salt

dash pepper

2 tbsp. powdered Mexican or Southwestern seasoning

1 lb. chicken breast, cut into small chunks

1 can corn

2-3 zucchinis

1 small green pepper

1 small red pepper

Preparation:

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced garlic, salt, pepper and powdered Mexican or Southwestern seasoning and mix, then add the chicken breast. Cook the chicken until brown, then add the corn, zucchini, green and red pepper. Cook the whole skillet until all vegetables have cooked through and soaked up the seasoning. Serve with Mexican or Southwestern rice or some crusty bread.

My Contest and Sweepstakes Hobby – Part 2

If you’re following my blog, you know that I’ve walked you through the first step in starting up your contest and sweepstakes hobby in a previous blog post: creating a separate email address and determining how to organize your inbox. Doing this will allow you to filter the many email messages you’ll receive from companies as you enter online contests and sweepstakes. Using a multi-featured email account, like Gmail, will enable you to sort your inbox so that you won’t miss an important winning email.

Now that you have a brand new email address ready to use for entering contests, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with your browser’s form filler, or download form filling software. Google Chrome, my browser of choice, has built-in form-filling capabilities. I’ve also used Roboform to autofill online forms. The quicker you’re able to enter numerous online contests and sweepstakes, the more of them you’ll be able to enter, and winning online contests and sweepstakes is really just a numbers game. The more you enter, the more likely you are to win now and then. I typically enter more than 500 online contest and sweepstakes each week – I’ll spend an hour here or there entering online while I drink my coffee and watch a YouTube video or Netflix show.

I have a few methods for finding online contests and sweepstakes to enter. The first is pretty straightforward: I visit websites that aggregate sweepstakes and entry links. One of my favorites is www.online-sweepstakes.com. I’ve been a member there for many years and can vouch for the legitimacy and quality of the sweepstakes they post. A premium membership is the best way to find out about the latest contests and sweepstakes, and $30 for a full year’s premium membership is a small price to pay to find the cream of the crop of sweepstakes. Sweepstakes Advantage and Sweepstakes Plus are two other great sweepstakes aggregators.

Reddit.com is another great source for online sweepstakes. The main two forums I frequent are /r/giveaways and /r/sweepstakes. I’ll typically do a sort by “new” to make sure I get the most updated listings.

Once you’ve been entering online contests and sweepstakes for a while, you’ll begin to receive tons of email messages letting you know about even more sweepstakes to enter. I have a separate folder in my Gmail account for sweepstakes, and I file emails announcing new contests or sweepstakes into that folder so I can enter them later at one time.

Now that you know how to enter sweepstakes quickly (form-filling functionality or software) and where to find new contests and sweepstakes to enter, you can test your luck online. Next time, learn about entering contests and sweepstakes via social media and how to recognize contests and sweepstakes that might be scams.

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Ham and peanuts in Smithfield

A while back, I discovered through genealogy research that one of my ancestors was originally from Smithfield, Virginia. When my younger son told me out of the blue one day that he wanted to “find a really good ham,” I knew Smithfield was the place to go.

We headed to Jamestown to take the free ferry across the James River to Surry, then we drove about fifteen miles to the town of Smithfield.

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When we first arrived, we were hungry and craving some ham, so we visited Taste of Smithfield, a combination restaurant and country store that serves some delicious Southern food and sells a variety of Smithfield meats, Virginia peanuts and other local food and gift items. I had the sliced ham, mashed potatoes with ham gravy and green beans with bacon and onions. The ham was divine, and the mashed potatoes were the creamiest and tastiest I’ve ever had.

After our lunch, we took a walk around town, crossing Church Street to see some beautiful old homes. We visited the Isle of Wight County Museum, where we looked up information on our ancestors and discovered that one of them, my 4th great-grandfather, was actually the first mayor of Smithfield, as well as an attorney, state delegate and U.S. representative. We explored the museum, learning about Smithfield’s history in the curing of ham and growing of peanuts.

We also visited the old Smithfield courthouse, dating from 1750. Over the years, this building has been used as a private residence, courthouse and hotel. It was restored to its 1750 footprint beginning in 1959.

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My boys wanted some ice cream, so we went to the Smithfield Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street. It was a slice of the past, with wood-paneled walls, old-fashioned milkshakes, floats and malts and delicious ice cream.

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We finished our day discovering my ancestor’s home on historic Church Street, and his grave at Historic St. Luke’s Church, Virginia’s oldest church.

It was a beautiful spring day, and my boys and I enjoyed Smithfield’s old-town charm and learning more about our family history!

My Contest and Sweepstakes Hobby – Part 1

Many people who know me are familiar with my hobby of entering contests and sweepstakes. I started entering these online giveaways about 15 years ago, and in that time I’ve been fortunate to win many fun and exciting prizes. Since I’m a travel junkie, my favorite prizes are trips, of course. Since 2003, I’ve won trips to California, Iceland, Mexico, France, New York, Florida, Maine and Nashville (that one I gave to my sister!). Besides trips, I’ve won various gift certificates, shopping sprees, gift packages, books, cd’s, dvd’s and other fun stuff, including $5,000 in cash. So how do I win all this stuff? I’ll be walking you through my system in a series of blog posts.

If you decide you want to take up entering contests and sweepstakes as a hobby, the first thing you’ll need to do is to establish a separate email address. You can use any of the free email service providers, such as Gmail, Yahoo, Juno, etc. When you enter online contests and sweepstakes, you’ll receive email communications from many of the companies who sponsor the giveaways. Unless you want to wade through all those marketing messages to check for any important personal emails, having them in a separate account will help you to save time and, depending on the email software you use, classify your incoming mail so you won’t miss a winning notification.

Gmail, for example, allows you to create folders within your inbox. In my Gmail account, I created a folder specifically for Sweepstakes, where I park all the emails advertising new sweepstakes and contests. I’ve also created other folders for things I’d like to save or file away later, like Recipes, Coupons, etc.

You want to be sure to check the email account you use to enter contests and sweepstakes at least every other day. Many contest wins will require that you respond to your notification email within 48 hours. You should also check your spam email folder to be sure you don’t miss a notification. You can mass-delete the other emails, or move only the winning ones and the ones announcing new contests or sweepstakes to another folder.

Once you’ve set up your “sweepstakes-only” email account, you can use it to enter contests and sweepstakes you find online. Finding them will be the focus of my second blog post in this series.

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Highlights from a weekend trip to New York City

New York City is one of my favorite places in the world. It’s like an onion with so many layers of history to peel. Every time I visit, I discover something new.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I got to take a weekend trip to NYC for a concert at Irving Plaza. We stayed at our favorite “secret” hotel, the Comfort Inn Lower East Side. This inexpensive hotel on the edge of Chinatown has a parking garage at the back of the block that you can reserve via the BestParking app and get great weekend rates. There’s free wifi and a free continental breakfast, and it’s easy to get in and out of Manhattan via the Manhattan Bridge.

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We found a tiny seafood bar just down the street from the venue in the East Village, Bait & Hook, that had delicious fried oysters. We grabbed a couple of picklebacks and some Guinness before we headed back to the hotel.

We spent Saturday exploring the Metropolitan Museum of Art, particularly the Egyptian and European art wings.

While heading back to the subway, we found a cute brewpub in Hell’s Kitchen for lunch. NY Beer Company had paninis, burgers and other sandwiches, pizza and a huge selection of beers, including a bunch of local New York options.

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My last (and favorite) discovery was the most charming little bar right down the street from our hotel. Les Enfants de Boheme is a French bar and restaurant with a full cocktail menu, cheese and charcuterie boards, mussels and various entrees. The Saturday night we visited, NYC was hit by a snowstorm, so we hung out at the bar, soaked up the atmosphere and watched the snow fall. It was New York magical.