How a former Fannie Mae VP Avoids Burnout at Her B&B

Collective wisdom.
May 22 2013 7:00 AM

The Inn of the Second-Act Happiness

Operating a bed and breakfast is a common starting-over fantasy.

(Continued from Page 1)

A few months after the reopening, Goldberg’s niece suggested that a friend looking for a wedding venue should hold it at the Briar Patch. It was a success, and Goldberg concluded that in addition to hoping for random guests to show up on weekends for quiche, she should make weddings the bread and butter of her bed and breakfast. For the first few years, the celebrations were held on the lawn or in a tent. But making weddings a year-round enterprise required permanent facilities. So she and her husband decided to transform a 19th-century outbuilding with a dirt floor, last used as a tractor shed, into an event space.

All told, the improvements have cost about $1 million. Today the old tractor shed, now known as the Fox Den, can hold 200 guests. Goldberg proudly points out the reclaimed cherry wood floors, the beamed ceiling, and the two giant Swarovski crystal chandeliers. It’s become a destination for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, fundraisers, and business meetings. But the process of renovating the building was one of the few times Goldberg had second thoughts about her decision to embark upon a second career. Getting approval for her plans was a three-year ordeal involving lawsuits, tangles with local government agencies, and oppositional neighbors.

Goldberg persevered, and the Briar Patch now hosts around 50 weddings a year—they are booked through November. Wedding parties take over the entire property for three days, with the Friday through Sunday shift costing about $10,000, while Sunday afternoon through Tuesdays runs about $5,000. Goldberg has concluded that today’s young people, who are often already living together when they tie the knot, frequently do so to get on with starting families. Her proof is the small population explosion following Briar Patch weddings. As if to prove the case, Goldberg’s 29-year-old daughter Tammy, who was married at the Briar Patch, is visiting midweek with her toddler and infant. Many of the couples who exchanged vows at the Briar Patch later return with their offspring, where they romp as Goldberg once did with her young children.

Advertisement

Goldberg has no plans for retirement and hopes to run the place for the next decade. She says mastering new skills, from coming up with gluten-free and vegan breakfasts, to learning Internet marketing skills (“which is where it’s at for B&Bs,” she says), to hosting big events is keeping her mind supple. She recommends that people seeking a second career find something that combines a chance to learn something new with expertise established over a lifetime.

She says that being an innkeeper has required her to approach her day in a radically different way from her former corporate self. She used to be the kind of person who would focus on a single task and make sure it was done perfectly. That’s not how it goes at a B&B. As we talk, her handyman appears holding a bent piece of circular metal—the lawn mower’s out of commission. This is a problem, since the grounds have to be ready for the weekend nuptials. Goldberg calmly suggests that the manager should contact a neighbor who’s done work at the Briar Patch to see if he can handle the mowing duties. Over the course of our discussion, she breaks away to check in new guests, take a call for reservations, find a three-pronged plug for one guest, attend to the Internet woes of another, and answer questions from her 2-year old granddaughter.

We move to her long front porch, and she shows some of the Civil War artifacts that have been dug up on her property by people who’ve asked permission to explore with metal detectors: bullets, buttons, buckles, coins. She says she’s proud that she has rescued an historic property that once seemed destined to fall into ruin. She recalls that when she told her colleagues at Fannie Mae what she was planning to do, most were surprised. “Some even thought I was crazy. Many of them have now sat many an hour on this porch. They’re still lawyers, they’re still working.” She gestures to the rolling green hills, the grounds she’s planted with 10,000 bulbs, the swimming pool, the hot tub, the horses grazing out back. “Maybe they envy me.”

This month, Slate is sharing stories of people who started over—like budget wonk Ina Garten, better known as the Barefoot Contessa—in our "Second Acts" Hive. We want to hear your tales, too. Please go here to submit your story about starting over.

Correction, May 22, 2013: This article originally misspelled Virginia's Loudoun County.

TODAY IN SLATE

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

How the First Benghazi Committee Hearing Humbled the Hillary Clinton State Department

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 18 2014 10:42 AM Scalia’s Liberal Streak The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 11:25 AM Gays on TV: From National Freakout to Modern Family Fun
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 18 2014 8:53 AM The Other Huxtable Effect Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 10:07 AM “The Day It All Ended” A short story from Hieroglyph, a new science fiction anthology.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?