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.

Argentinian Dinner

The food culture of Argentina is an interesting mix of native and indigenous cuisines with Mediterranean, particularly Italian influences. The prevalence of cattle in the South American nation means that beef is nearly always on the menu there. When making a delicious Argentinian-style dinner for my family, grilled steak with chimichurri was a must! Chimichurri is a thick, green sauce that contains cilantro, parsley and oregano alongside red wine vinegar, garlic and olive oil, it’s a flavorful addition to a high quality steak.

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Even though the steak was the centerpiece of this South American meal, we needed a filling side item. Toasted multigrain bread with a slathering of provoleta, grilled provolone cheese with spices, made the perfect match.

Our meal was simple and hearty, and all three kids declared it “good,” which is a major accomplishment in a multi-kid household!

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Of course we had to finish off dinner with a decadent dessert, and what better to showcase the link between Argentina and Italy than a yummy tiramisu? This rich, sweet treat was the perfect ending to this Argentine cooking experiment, and it was made even better by the light dusting of Puccini Bomboni cocoa powder we brought back from Amsterdam on our last Europe trip.

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