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.

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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My Favorite Old-Fashioned

Some classic cocktail enthusiasts may not know this, but the Old Fashioned was originally created as a gin cocktail. In 1862, renowned bartender Jerry Thomas published his “Bartenders’ Guide.” In it, he described the Old Fashioned Holland Gin cocktail as containing sugar, water, ice, Angostura bitters, a small piece of lemon peel and a jigger of Holland gin. A few years later in 1880, Louisville bartender James E. Pepper made his version of the drink, exchanging the gin for bourbon. The rest was history.

Bartenders around the world have created their own versions of this classic drink, substituting various types of liquors and garnishes, but the bones of the Old Fashioned remain the same: sugar or syrup, water, ice, bitters, citrus and liquor.

Here’s how I make my favorite:  Rub a slice of orange peel around the rim of a highball glass, then drop it in the glass. Add 1/2 oz. of Tippleman’s Burnt Sugar simple syrup and a splash of water. Muddle and mix. Add a large ice cube. Add 1 1/2 to 2 oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon or Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey. Drop in a Filthy Foods Red or Black Cherry and a barspoon of cherry juice and stir. Voila!

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Cooking with Kids – Super Bowl Lunch

My six year-old son loves cooking with me, so much that he has an Easy Bake oven and his own cooking set given to him for Christmas by his aunt and uncle. When I told him I was going to make some tomato soup from scratch for lunch on this #SuperBowlSunday, he couldn’t wait to help.

An easy recipe like soup is perfect for kids who want to help cook. I diced all the veggies and he helped pour everything into the pot and stir it. He loved using his measuring cups and spoons, and he was great at stirring it to keep it from burning or sticking to the pot. I got to try out my new immersion blender to blend it up until it was smooth and creamy, and he picked the accompaniments: saltine crackers and some Annie’s White Cheddar Bunnies.

Quick and Creamy Tomato Soup from Scratch

2 tbsp. canola oil

1/2 a medium onion, diced

1 medium garlic clove, diced

2 tbsp. flour

1 large can diced tomatoes

2 tbsp. tomato paste

3 cups vegetable broth

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

salt and pepper to taste

3 tbsp. Greek yogurt

Directions:

  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onion and saute for 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and saute for another minute to let the garlic soften, then sprinkle the flour over the mixture and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring often.
  3. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste and broth. Stir.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.
  5. Add Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Stir.
  6. Remove from heat. Puree the soup with an immersion blender, or use a food processor or blender. Return to the pot.
  7. Add the Greek yogurt and whisk.
  8. Serve with cheese and your choice of crackers. Enjoy!