Two years ago Carolyn “Jeannie” Jones no doubt would have escaped her condo in Toledo to spend the Labor Day weekend at her lakefront cottage at Devils Lake in Michigan.

But this weekend she will celebrate the holiday at her new villa at Waterside in Monclova Township, and if the weather agrees, she will take a leisure ride in her pontoon boat, go kayaking, or maybe both.

Carolyn is proof positive that the word downsize doesn’t have to be ugly, feared, or ignored if plans are made carefully.

Her well-organized downsizing plan focused on scaling down from two dwellings, the lake cottage and the Toledo condo, to enjoy retirement in one home.

Her decisions were not without sentimental emotions. The lake cottage that had been a summer retreat for her and her family for 40 years was cozy, all decked out in a nautical theme. Owning the cottage not only meant good times and lots of memories, especially about her drives there in the summer to mow the 200-foot-lawn and put the dock in so that she and guests could enjoy the 22-foot pontoon boat. In the winter, there were still drives to the lake to check on the cottage and make sure Mama Cat, a large feral she had become fond of, had food.

Owning two homes is challenging for anyone, and particularly a single woman. The cottage had to go, tears and all.

After a few encounters with real estate companies, Carolyn decided to sell the cottage herself. After all, who knew the answers to questions would-be buyers ask better than she, and why not save the commission if possible?

Her determination and attractive sale signs paid off. The cottage sold and the downsizing plan was under way.

The Waterside community was high on Carolyn’s dream list as the location for her only home. The choice was sweetened by the waterway that winds through much, but not all, of the community. The nautical street names were attractive to her. In fact, the villa model she chose to have built is the Nantucket.

With the cottage responsibilities gone, time and money kept the downsizing mode in high gear. The good news was the availability of a prime lot on the Waterside waterway. Although it is a far cry from Devils Lake, when you love lake living, all water big enough for a boat counts.

The 10 months it took for the villa to be built was all the time that she needed to sell her Toledo condo and, once again, she sold it herself through strategic planning.

That brings us to Carolyn’s waterfront home. It’s a happy ending to a downsizing story that just kind of wrote itself the day she asked me to see how she had decorated it and to take a boat ride. I declined the invitation to go kayaking.

It was no surprise that the stunning furnishings included several nautical pieces, a touch that kept the old lake cottage a part of the new villa. While Carolyn went first class with new furniture and guidance from Bowling Green decorators Marie Rogers and Ruth Milliron, family pieces were blended tastefully into the décor. She is particularly proud of two lamp tables, made from the shutters from the home of her great-grandparents in Oregon.

“But I am at peace with the things I got rid of,” she says. Having one residence also has meant a reduction in payments to one set of utility bills, property taxes, and appliances to replace. “Believe me, that has been a big deal.”

An emphasis on white in the décor includes changing the kitchen cabinets from natural wood to a gleaming white that Carolyn feels connects the kitchen with the rest of the open concept. The room off the entrance hall was the perfect choice for a music room, a great spot for her to play classical music.

Her Adrian College co-workers learned of her talent when she gave a recital at her retirement party. She continues to work part time in the college development department.

The visit included lunch, but no grilled cheese and tomato soup here. Instead, fish tacos and a freshly made corn salad were set on the long marble counter. The tacos were generously filled with sautéed blue gills that Carolyn caught in the Waterside pond last year — fishing is no longer allowed — and stored in the freezer.

The tacos were served with a choice of guacamole or salsa.

The 12-foot pontoon boat is battery operated and the perfect size for four people, and the quiet, smooth ride took us by many of the more than 600 villas at Waterside. It was interesting to see how owners addressed the different designs. As an example, Carolyn added a portico to the water side.

Carolyn’s friend, Joel Weinberg, a longtime Waterside resident, joined us on the boat, as did van Gogh, in a neck scarf and mini life jacket.

Van Gogh, so named because of his missing ear, is one of Carolyn’s four rescue cats that are also happy in the new digs. And just in case he might slip into the water on a boat ride, his safety is assured with a harness and a mini life jacket. The other two house cats are Zelda and Zoë.

And Mama Cat, the feral that Carolyn drove to the lake to care for, moved to Waterside and lives safe and purring. While she still hisses, Carolyn is sure it is Mama Cat’s way of saying thank you.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at

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