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Retired Marine opts for something more restful


DURING THE HEIGHT of the conflict in Fallujah, Col. Jenny Holbert had little time to rest while overseeing 77 reporters embedded with the Marines in the Iraq War.

“You were sleep-deprived because you were working 14- to 18-hour days. You’re so focused and working so hard because everything is so important,” said Holbert, who was the public affairs director at Camp Fallujah.

Now Holbert, who retired from the Corps in 2008, has totally switched gears.

Instead of fighting sleep, she’s running a relaxing retreat where guests can linger over freshly made blueberry buckwheat pancakes in the morning and slip between silky smooth sheets at night in the newly opened Lavender Heights Bed & Breakfast at 419 Forbes St. in Falmouth.

“I’m trying to indulge people,” said Holbert, who has studied hotel and restaurant management at Oregon State University.

Lavender Heights is named for the lavender plants in the front garden and the 7-acre property’s location on Stafford Heights, which offers sweeping views of Fredericksburg.

The modern-looking bed-and-breakfast belies its beginnings as a modest two-story frame home. Previous owners John and Emmy Cox renovated and added onto it, creating a spacious house with 35 windows, hardwood floors, beautiful moldings, and a large kitchen and the sun room where breakfast is now served.

Holbert has decorated the house with a mix of antique furnishings handed down by her Iowa forebears, artwork and accessories collected during her travels around the world, and pieces she purchased at Fredericksburg shops, including Encore Home Gallery and Simms Furniture.

“I have all this stuff and I want to share what I have,” she said.

Lavender Heights currently has three bedrooms for rent. The largest, Ellie’s Suite, is named for her mother and features a king-size sleigh bed outfitted with a memory-foam mattress and microfiber sheets by Comphy Co., which are sold only to and by spas, hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.

The room also has a bow window overlooking the front garden, a mini-fridge and a spacious bathroom with a Jacuzzi. Spa-style bathrobes hang in the closet alongside extra hypoallergenic pillows and a laptop bed desk so guests can take advantage of Lavender Heights’ free Wi–Fi.

The sofa in the suite’s sitting room can be turned into a bed.

“I think my mother would appreciate the blue and gold elegance of this room,” said Holbert.

The other two rooms, which are upstairs, are a little smaller and less expensive than the $220 a night Holbert charges for Ellie’s Suite. Both are done in gold, burgundy and various shades of green. They share a common area decorated with family memorabilia and equipped with a mini-fridge.

One of the rooms is named the Shannaberry after friends Andy and the late Janice Atteberry Shannan. It has a reproduction Victorian four-poster and Jacuzzi, and goes for $175.

Holbert named the other room Molly’s Retreat. A miniature Molly Marine statue stands on the dresser. She received the statuette from her fellow recruits at Parris Island for best exemplifying the meaning of being a Marine. This room rents for $165.

A fourth bedroom over Lavender Height’s three-car garage is in the planning stages. Guests who stay there will be able to bring pets. No animals are allowed in the house, and Holbert tries to keep the rooms scent-free. Even the bath products custom made by Bumble Bee Studio in Middleburg for the bed-and-breakfast smell only faintly of lavender.

So far, Lavender Heights has had one paying couple spend the night, although family and friends served as extra help and guinea pigs while the bed-and-breakfast was being fixed up and furnished.

Holbert, whose classes at Oregon State included food science, said one thing she discovered when she tried out various recipes to serve for breakfast was that nobody liked low-fat, low-salt dishes.

“People want food that is made with cream, not too heavily spiced and flavorful,” she said.

As a result, a typical breakfast at Lavender Hill could include an omelet and sausage from one of the local farmers markets or a crustless quiche and savory vegetables.

“I like to make my breakfast entrée something you will remember,” Holbert said.

The retired Marine, who loves to cook and garden, said it took her a while to decide on her new career as innkeeper. She wanted to live in Stafford because she’d been stationed at Quantico three times and has friends and family in the area. But she realized commuting to work at a desk job would take a toll on her back and be bad for her health.

So she started carrying a piece of paper around with her, and every time she thought of a word that made her happy, she’d jot it down. Within a month, she had 40 words.

“I came to understand that I was a decent cook and loved gardening,” said Holbert, who once worked as the front desk manager for a 600-room hotel in Yellowstone National Park. “It came down to running a plant business or running a bed-and-breakfast.”

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407