Finding the Balance Between Sponsored and Not

I had something else planned to share today, but in light of recent comments (which were polite and respectful, thank you), I want to let you in on my thought process with a big upcoming project. And I would love your feedback.

Our home had more pressing issues to tend to before we got to the kitchen. We addressed the heating system, remodeled the second floor and turned a superfluous kitchen into a bedroom (Calvin’s nursery), consolidated the multiple gas lines and accounts into one and did the same with our electrical service (in addition to rewiring everything).

There is a room off the back of the kitchen, a former sleeping porch, that would be wonderful to open up and incorporate. Direct access to the yard! Breakfast for the kids in an eat-in kitchen! The ability to not have our stove right next to the fridge! It requires opening a load-bearing wall though, and new flooring, new cabinetry, the works. It’s a maybe someday type of project, and it’s not something that we’re looking to do right now. The kitchen works well for us overall as it is — we have plenty of storage, the cabinets have some quirks but they’re fine, and we do at least have the modern convenience of a dishwasher.

That antique gas/wood-burning stove, though! I’ve been hesitant to get rid of the it because I have a love/hate thing going on, but it’s time. We’re a family of five now, we cook dinner every night, and the stove makes it harder than it needs to be. We’ll be selling it eventually and I’m sure it will have many more useful years ahead of it, but we’re ready for something else.

Antique Stove

We’ve also had some electrical problems that are driving a redo. There is a sconce, a ceiling fan, and three pendant lights in the kitchen. The light above the stove sparked and burned a light bulb in Brandon’s hand as he was changing it out one day, which was more than a little scary. In an unrelated event (I think), we mysteriously lost power to a portion of the second floor. While our electricians were fixing that problem, they found active knob and tube that was missed during our initial house inspection, and thus began the rewiring of the entire place. The bulk of the job is done now, but it was suggested that we wait to finish the rest when we didn’t have a newborn. We agreed and then we were waiting until after we hosted my sister’s bridal shower in the house (which I will share next week), and now we’ll be able to get back to it as soon as we can get back on the electricians’ schedule. A ceiling is coming down, walls are being opened, and the house is going to be in a state of chaos for a while, but I’m looking forward to getting this work done because it has been holding other projects back.

In the meantime, we had the faulty kitchen pendant rewired and thought all was well, but then I was changing a bulb recently in the pendant above the sink and the same thing happened. The sparks were pretty spectacular! So now we aren’t sure if the problem lies in the house’s wiring (the kitchen has not been done yet), the vintage lighting fixtures, or both. The problem will be investigated, and I’m hoping it can be fixed without destroying the tin ceiling.

Tin Ceiling

So. New stove. Rewiring or replacing the lights. While we’re at it, I would also like to put in new counters, swap out the sink and faucet, remove the wallpaper, paint or put up new paper, and add ventilation with a range hood. Maybe paint the cabinets, bring in some tile, and revamp or replace the kitchen island too. I’m in the early stages of planning everything right now, but the crazy thing is that (to be perfectly honest) the blog puts me in a position to do much of the room for free.

The business of blogging is always changing and those of us that have been doing this for a long time are always adapting, and I’ve addressed the topic of sponsorship before. I teach, I write elsewhere, and I cobble together a living from other opportunities, but the primary source of my income is sponsor-driven and has been for many years. I’m not sure what our budget for the kitchen will be yet, but let’s say I can set aside $10,000. We will likely hire someone to put in the ventilation and there will be some repairs needed after the electricians do their thing (the extent of which will determine whether we DIY or hire out), so those costs are somewhat fixed. With the rest of our budget, I could buy a mid-priced range, save money by painting instead of adding tile or wallpaper, rewire and keep our existing lighting (assuming it can be deemed safe), reuse the sink and faucet that we took out from the kitchen on the second floor, and watch our pennies with all the rest.

Bloggers hold influence, and therefore companies are often eager to get product into our hands in exchange for coverage. Any goods that I accept, either those that have been proactively offered or that I seek out with proposals, would effectively increase our overall budget and allow us to allocate our cash differently. It could mean the difference in my design between a standard 30″ stove and a higher-end 36″ range (the added six inches comes with a huge price jump), or it could mean more beautiful lighting and a new sink. I wouldn’t accept something just because the (free) price is right, but if it was something I would have purchased anyway, I simply look at it as another form of income — one that allows us to accomplish more than we would have been able to do otherwise.

There are a couple of remodels going on in the blog world right now that will be incorporating gifted items, some of which have been more clearly disclosed than others. The ongoing One Room Challenge series, is fun to follow, provides a ton of inspiration, and it is made possible in large part by sponsorships. Knowing this doesn’t diminish my interest as a reader, but perhaps my perception is different because I am on both sides of the issue.

Accepting sponsorships or free goods allows me to create a more beautiful finished product (I’m happy), offers coverage for the brands I partner with (they’re happy), and produces more original content for the blog (I want you to be happy, too). I get that it’s not easy to relate to a kitchen done entirely with free goods, but I think there is a balance to be struck and I can’t make the call in a vacuum or an echo-chamber. I can discuss these things with friends, family, and fellow bloggers, but then sometimes I’ll make a decision and it prompts a completely unexpected reaction. So let’s talk. Would you prefer to see a modest kitchen redone without the help of free goods? Or a more involved design with higher-end finishes and details that were made possible (either in part or entirely) by seeking out partnerships? Do you draw a distinction between accepting individual components (appliances, tile, etc.) or an overall sponsorship (brought to you by _____)?

I’ve always aimed to be transparent in these matters, so you tell me. What would you (ideally) like to see? I’m listening.

Know Any Good Cast Iron Jokes?

Most people know the basics of cooking. But did you know that in order to make a meal truly special, you must begin by arranging all of your ingredients in pretty bowls and placing them on and around the antique kitchen scale your husband balked at? It’s true. Do not skip this step. No substitutions.

Ingredients from Blue Apron for Chicken Bolognese & Rigatoni Pasta with Mascarpone Cheese & Summer Squash-Arugula Salad

Brandon was a little confused by the scale’s arrival, seeing as how we don’t have all that much counter space in our kitchen, but I showed him, didn’t I. Everyone appoints their kitchens according to an item’s photogenic qualities, yes? (It could have been much worse.)

And it’s cast iron, which goes nicely with our cast iron stove and my new cast iron braiser. I haven’t seen Inception, so I had to ask Brandon if it was an appropriate reference for making a joke here. All I know is it’s a dream about a dream inside a dream… swap out the “dream” with “cast iron” and there’s a joke in there somewhere. No? He said no. So I challenged him to come up with something better, which he could not, because it seems I had not stumbled upon the comedic goldmine I thought I had.

Cooking

I do love that new braiser though. I’ve cooked with cast iron and baked with enameled cast iron before, but I would have normally used our big stainless steel sauté pan for a dish like this (chicken bolognese & rigatoni pasta with mascarpone cheese from our latest Blue Apron delivery). The braiser is about the same size, but it regulates the heat much better on our crazy stove and it was still easy to clean. Plus, it is a lovely shade of pink.

I did not have something suitably twee for making the summer squash-arugula salad, and so I had to settle for a perfectly useful but not terribly cute stainless steel mixing bowl. My assistant made up for it with added cuteness, which was welcome — though she did keep stealing slices of the squash.

Making Summer Squash Salad

Summer Squash Salad

Look, the scale is useful once again!

Dinner Scale

That pasta was tasty. I don’t think I had cooked with mascarpone before, and it added a nice creaminess. That’s part of why I like Blue Apron: there’s usually an interesting ingredient or twist on a classic dish that we wouldn’t have thought of. Having the meal planning done for us is awesome too, and everything ships for free. If you want to get an idea of what you get, you can browse their recipes. Don’t the Thai-spiced salmon and hoisin-glazed chicken thighs look good?

Chicken Bolognese & Rigatoni Pasta with Mascarpone Cheese & Summer Squash-Arugula Salad

The Family Plan with a delivery once a week works for us, but they also offer two shipments per week or a smaller 2-Person Plan, and you can skip or cancel any time. I’m always happy to share them on the blog, and Blue Apron is offering the first 100 readers that sign up here two free meals on their first Blue Apron order!

And I was close to something with the cast iron thing there, right?

Five Little Fluff Balls

I had been suspecting it for a couple of weeks now. A quick search confirmed that Speedy did indeed look like a pregnant guinea pig, but I couldn’t successfully tell if Gingerbread was male or female. Supposedly, we had two girls. Brandon thought that Speedy was just getting fat, and maybe she was getting more food because she was the dominant one.

They’re a family of five now. Just like us.

BABIES!!!

Guinea Pig Babies

Eleanor is SO excited. “They’re in love! They got married!” The babies have names already. Butterscotch (everyone’s favorite), Noisy (because it was making noise, obviously), and Cute-Cute (he/she is cute).

Speedy, Butterscotch, Cute-Cute, and Noisy

Their papa is in his own cage now. ↓

Gingerbread the Guinea Pig

I’ve heard stories about people bringing home an already-pregnant pet, but ours are definitely the proud parents. We’ve had them for longer than the gestation period. And here’s a fun fact that I did not know before: guinea pigs will mate and can conceive again immediately after birth! So we’ve got that going for us. We woke up to discover the babies, and I had Gingerbread in his own cage a couple of hours after that, but I hope I’m not too late. Giving birth is hard on their little bodies (look at how big the babies are compared to their mom), and back-to-back pregnancies don’t always end well.

Guinea Pig Mom and Babies

I’ll check and recheck and make my best call as to which ones are boys and which are girls, but I’m planning to take them to the vet for verification. I’m hoping that Speedy can live with her daughter(s) and Gingerbread can live with his son(s). Guinea pigs are social creatures and they’re much happier in pairs.

Guinea Pig Family

SO CUTE.

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