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As a prior English teacher, I love telling each of my couple's love story. Each story is unique and in a culmination of love and a little planning, the wedding day brings that love to life in front of family and friends. As a lover of heirlooms and legacies, it's a joy to be alongside each of my couples as they create memories that will last forever for their children and grandchildren!

I'm ali rae.

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A Life Update: Fall 2022


November 14, 2022

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Hmmm…where to start?

I actually originally wrote this “update” before Emerson was even born, but for a few reasons decided not to post it. So I am going through and amending certain parts to make it more suitable for the most current version of our world.

I have started and stopped typing…deleted some…not sure why this is so hard for me, but here goes nothin’.

Kirsten Butler Photography

Let’s start with the easy stuff: family.

The pregnancy with Emerson was just harder. Emotionally and physically. We have been going through a hard time with the transition out of the Marine Corps, starting new ventures…and subsequently getting the wind taken out of our sails, and just overall adjusting to life in a new state. Thankfully, Emerson and I are both in good health now. There have just been some scares throughout that have really shaken me (and Caleb, but he’s the calm amidst the storm).

Like when we were told all is good at our anatomy scan, only to be called at 8am the next morning to come back in because there were multiple large concerns (umbilical cord viability, potential heart issues, and possibly going into early labor). That same day I was supposed to be headed to Virginia to shoot two weddings…that hour-long drive to the doctor’s office felt like a century. Waiting in that waiting room was torture. All to be told, “Oh, it must have just been the angle the baby was resting. All is good!” Seriously…we have got to do better with some bedside manner here, folks.

While I think I want to keep the details of the delivery personal, I will say that it was scary. It ended in an emergency C-section after desperately wanting to try for a VBAC. The doctors say we got to the hospital at the perfect time and if we had waited any longer, the outcome may not have been the same. Needless to say, we are so thankful for the doctors at University of Louisville Hospital that delivered Emerson safely into this world.

All that to say, we are in a good place now. We welcomed the fifth member of this Haney family on August 19th, 11 days after his due date, and are living in 1,000 square feet as cozy as can be. Not gonna lie though, life with three kids is pure, unadulterated chaos. It feels like we are in a constant state of laundry, spit up, and repeating ourselves 6,000 times. Day-to-day life is a blur, but I know I will remember this blurry time fondly in about 18 years. 🙂

Okay, onto the next major update: photography.

Once we thought the venue was a certain (after we had closed and had begun the Conditional Use hearing), I totally stopped marketing myself as a wedding photographer. I attempted to pivot to branding only because I figured that I could still shoot during the week and be able to act as venue manager/coordinator on the weekends. But I had very few bites as a photographer in a new place trying to gain trust and credibility in a tight-knit community.

So essentially photography, other than the weddings I had already booked in Virginia for the remainder of 2021 and 2022, came to a screeching halt. While it’s not the main income we count on, it is an important part of our family’s income now that Caleb has gotten out of the Marine Corps.

Back in February is when we decided to pivot to an Airbnb instead of wedding venue (will get to that shortly), so I started putting the majority of my effort into that, but also realized the need to start booking weddings here in Kentucky. The consistent travel to and from Virginia was becoming less realistic with another child on the way and inflation rising so rapidly. Just picture this: a 7.5 hour drive (9 total with stops) with two children, ages 3 and 1, all just me and the kids because Caleb had to work. Almost every other week for ten weeks in the fall and ten weeks in the spring. I lost count how many times we made that drive. Don’t hear me wrong–my kids are great travelers. But they’re 3 and 1 in a car for days. It’s just hard. So I started marketing myself [more] as a wedding and branding photographer in early summer once we got the Airbnb underway. It’s been going well, but I would still say it’s not perfect.

Amidst all of that, I decided to try and launch The Photography Framework course, and that also felt like a massive failure. I was splitting my attention too many ways, so everything seemed to flop all at once. I haven’t given up on TPF just yet because I truly think I have some helpful things to share with beginning and aspiring photography business owners…I am currently just trying to figure out how to package and deliver it in a way that is helpful to those who need it. Anyone who has any ideas–I am open to them!

Alright, and finally…the juicy stuff you have all been waiting for: wedding venue/Airbnb.

I think this part is why I haven’t done a life update that was super clear or definitive. The other “failures” or “challenges” we have been through…I know those are just ebbs, but soon will come the flow. This venture was something entirely new (the wedding venue, specifically) and exciting. And boy, was I hopeful!

Initially, the property was purchased last summer to become a luxury wedding venue right on the bourbon trail. We had grand 10-year plans all scheduled and mapped out. The first goal was to get it up and running as an Airbnb to start bringing in some income from the property to fund start-up expenses. Then we were going to market it as a wedding venue where we could host weddings with outdoor ceremonies and tented receptions as a full weekend rental. It was going to be complete with getting ready suites, overnight accommodations, and the option to host your rehearsal right here on property. We would use this initial wedding income to fund the renovations on the “shop” that would eventually become the reception space. I was doing my best not to go and take out loans willy nilly.

I was committed to doing everything the right way from the start, which meant we would be applying for a Conditional Use Permit from the county. Essentially what that means is that we are using our land for something other than its intended use. We are zoned as agriculture and want to run a business outside of the agricultural sphere, so we have to apply for the “conditional use” of the property. This allows the county to put restrictions (or conditions) on how we use the property.

We came prepared to the Conditional Use hearing, but were met with quite a bit of opposition from neighboring property owners, as well as other members of our rural community. Of course we expected some concerns–noise and traffic were the main two we anticipated–and we came prepared with answers for those concerns. Despite that, the hearing lasted about two hours with a lot of back and forth…and it was extended so that I could continue to gather information from other county officials; I was admittedly exhausted (and kind of caught off guard) afterward.

The extension of the Conditional Use hearing was equally as exhausting. Amidst a fall wedding season traveling back and forth to Virginia, I was fielding calls from the County Road Department, going to the Health Department to apply for permits, and trying to create materials for the Board of Adjustments pulling all the research together to prove that the property was perfect for this use as a wedding venue and short-term rental.

While I am skipping over some of the nitty-gritty details, we were presented with 18 conditions on our approved permit, many of which were put on as precautions due to concerns from our neighbors. Some of these conditions were:

  1. “No DJ outside the building,” which meant that we would not be able to offer tented receptions, and therefore, would have to finish the reception hall from the start.
  2. “Parking capacity and surface requirements is gravel, no parking on Hickory Lane, within 2 years the property needs to be paved.” After looking through the minutes from the other two hearings, we were surprised to find that they were not given this requirement from the start, much less required to have an additional $60-70k expense in the first two years of business.
  3. “There will be no string lighting,” which seemed a bit odd to me as string lighting is a very minimal addition to the overall property.
  4. “It will only be operational on Fridays and Saturdays.” While this doesn’t impact us too much as a weekend only venue, it leaves the question of: What if I were to host a vendor get together during the week?

At every turn, it felt like the vision was being altered…but I was still really hopeful despite that. We began gathering quotes from contractors, creating a renovation budget including the expenses required to obey the conditions on our permit. However, there was still opposition from neighbors who were very unhappy with what we were trying to do, and I was convinced that they would do anything to get our permit revoked. Conditional Use permits are not permanent; they can be revoked if, for some reason, we were not to abide by the conditions. While it was our intention to abide by all the conditions, I was so fearful that we would accidentally overlook something amidst trying to obey all 18 of them. Combine that with being under a microscope, I was worried about how alllllll of this would affect client experience. Weddings are a big deal, not something I take lightly. And with the luxurious experience we wanted to deliver…it just didn’t seem possible.

If that seems like I came to a drastic conclusion, feel free to go watch the public hearing recordings, and maybe you will understand a bit better. I am not one to stir the pot, but they are public hearings and posted for the public to hear/watch…so happy internet hunting if you’re curious!

One of the other items discussed in the Conditional Use hearing was that we would have to apply for a separate permit and go through the same process if we wanted to operate as a short-term rental in a capacity outside of weddings. In other words, we could host weddings with overnight guests, but were not allowed to host overnight guests without a wedding. It didn’t totally make sense to me, but I was just thankful for the “approval” of our permit, so I didn’t argue. Mind you, that was the other piece to our “start up fund” puzzle…

We did indeed have to go through the Conditional Use Permit process again. Thankfully we were granted permission to use the main house as a short-term rental/Airbnb. We were living in the main house, so we moved over to the guest house to allow for accommodations over in the bigger space. The kids are now sharing a room and the baby will be in our room for the foreseeable future. It is the coziest place we have ever lived and it happens to be when our family is the biggest. But I am staying positive and embracing the closeness that it has brought to our family. We have hosted multiple groups of guests at the main house and everything has gone well, which I am thankful for.

Now…as far as moving forward, we are staying afloat right now with the income from the short-term rental, but keeping up 86 acres is a lot. We moved in at the end of the summer last year, so most everything was winding down. We have someone that bales the larger fields, but Caleb was cutting grass for at least 3-5 hours/week on top of the landscaping and other routine maintenance that comes along with maintaining a bunch of farm equipment and close to 6,000 livable square feet. It’s a one-family show over here, y’all, and it is exhausting…but we are learning a ton and going to use that for whatever adventures come across our path in the future.

We have tentatively decided to put this home on the market early 2023 and attempt to revive the dream in a new, more welcoming location. I am staying positive in hopes that maybe circumstances will change, but overall…I am just trying to keep my ambition in check and not let it blind me by making decisions that will ultimately not serve my clients in the best way possible.

Now that all that is out in the world, I hope I can breathe a little easier. Right now, I feel like I am writing from a “still going through it” phase, instead of a “I conquered it” phase…but sometimes I guess that’s just what it takes. We are figuring it out as we go, and it’s not all perfect all the time.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us throughout this adventurous phase of our life. Thank you to those who have encouraged me when I have been less than optimistic throughout the last year. I truly believe that if I maintain the attitude of, “There’s something to be learned from this” attitude, paired with a little positivity, our wedding venue dream will still come true in the most beautiful way possible and we will have grown a beautiful family in the midst of it all.

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As a prior English teacher, I love telling each of my couple's love story. Each story is unique and in a culmination of love and a little planning, the wedding day brings that love to life in front of family and friends. As a lover of heirlooms and legacies, it's a joy to be alongside each of my couples as they create memories that will last forever for their children and grandchildren!

I'm ali rae.

Hey there!