Holiday Traditions with Family and Friends

Holiday Traditions with Family and Friends
By Tim Johnson 
December 2019

When most of us look to our winter holiday celebrations, especially Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, we often think of our favorite traditions.

Some family traditions might include delivering baked goods to the neighbors, while other people might visit a Christmas tree farm and choose a tree. Volunteering at a soup kitchen or shelter with friends is a beautiful tradition many people share.

After college I teamed up with a group of five other singers. For seven years we sang Christmas carols at Costa Mesa’s Saks Fifth Avenue during the holiday season beginning right after Thanksgiving. Besides making extra money for holiday shopping, this became an annual holiday tradition we shared together.

I asked some of our residents about holiday traditions they cherished. Vicki told me that lighting the Menorah candles, eating latkes and singing Hanukkah songs with her family and friends was always fun and delicious! It remains to her a very special time of year.

Laura remembered a special tradition from when she was a young girl. She was part of a “prolific” Southern family. Every Christmas 70 family members gathered at her Grandma’s house. There were always lots of presents and family delicacies she only ate once a year. It was something she looked forward to all year long.

Pat grew up in Australia. As a teenager she loved Christmas on the beach! Barbequed lamb chops, (complete with added sand), was what she would expect. Spending the holiday surfing, combing for shells and looking at tide pools were just a few of her family’s activities. To this day, Pat is happy on the beach, winter or summer!

Meghan and her husband attended an annual dinner party with three other couples. The cuisine would vary from year to year and each couple contributed to the meal. After dinner they would read a play together. The friendships they created by celebrating this unique tradition lasted for many years and will always remain in her heart.

My advice to all in this busy time of year is to keep your holiday traditions alive - these special activities often produce the fondest memories that you will cherish throughout your entire life.



Keeping Your Brain Sharp with Brain Aerobics

Keeping Your Brain Sharp with Brain Aerobics
by Tim Johnson
November 2019

Scientist Dr. Carl Sagan said that, “The brain is like a muscle and when we use it we feel very good.” As with any muscle, our brain needs exercise to stay strong, and as we age, we can guard against memory loss with daily memory exercises. I’m not talking about one’s routine of completing the daily crossword puzzle or an occasional Sudoku game, though these games can be fun. I want to introduce you to the practice of “brain aerobics” -– a kind of mental gymnastics for your brain!

Brain aerobics are activities designed to stretch your brain in a new way. To qualify, an activity must keep you engaged using more than one of your senses and break an established routine.

Some brain aerobics activities might include reading something new, learning a new language, studying and playing a musical instrument or taking a dance class. At The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living in Oakland we’ve taken brain aerobics to a new level.

Recently, our residents were playing a kind of improvisational brain game called “Never Have I Ever!” The game encourages people to respond quickly to a wide variety of randomly selected prompts using facts from their pasts, or they can make up stories to see if the crowd can tell the difference.

Judy was doing her improv by spinning an elaborate yarn about a time when she cut her own hair and styled it into a wild shag hairdo. The details were so crisp, you could almost smell the Aqua Net. Yet, this event never actually happened.

Judy’s fellow residents in the audience were rapt. “She’s definitely telling the truth,” someone said. 100 percent of the crowd agreed that Judy’s story was true. When she revealed that the story was fabricated, the group fell into laughter and applause.

“It’s the improv,” she told me. “I never would have been able to do that before The Lake Merritt’s class instructor, actor and comedian Langstyn’s improv class. Different details just started popping into my head.”

A growing body of scientific studies point to the positive mental, emotional and social benefits of improv. University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Gordon Bermant notes that in improv "fear of failure loses its sting — a net of support is constructed from the openness, trust, and acceptance” during the exercises.

“The beauty of improv is that there’s no wrong answer,” said instructor Langstyn. “You can be yourself…or someone else. A lot of life is so structured out. This class keeps people attentive, aware and thinking on their feet.”

Langstyn has quickly become one of the most popular people at The Lake Merritt. Judging by the turnout and the howling laughter coming from the class, improv is exhilarating for mind and spirit. So, try a new card game, take an art class, and begin something new. It’s a whole lot more fun than your average game of Sudoku!



Ministry of Loneliness - Part 2

Ministry of Loneliness - Part 2
by Johanna Leonard
October 2019

In April of last year, I wrote about Britain’s newly-appointed Minister of Loneliness (please see the complete blog in our archives). I wanted to follow-up on this program and see what they were doing.

The Commission was launched in 2017 and they discovered startling statistics. One third of all older adults had not communicated with another person for at least 30 days or more. Many of these older adults were isolated in that they lived alone in their home and had little contact with the outside world for a variety of reasons, such as disability, general health, etc. Here in the U.S., The New York Times got on board and did research here. They reported on “An Epidemic of Loneliness,” in our country and the AARP’s (The American Association of Retired Persons) research found that loneliness was a “significant predictor of poor health.”

Just a few months ago, the Ministry of Loneliness announced its new initiative called “Let’s Talk Loneliness.” The purpose of the initiative is to create a culture where people are comfortable in talking about loneliness. I The government is now working alongside many charities to help people realize the importance of recognizing loneliness in themselves and others.

In addition to a lot of public service announcements, the Ministry is also investing one million pounds in a “Tech to Connect Challenge Prize” which is a competition to award prizes of between £10 and £100 to people who find tech solutions to the problem of social isolation. The focus is on the positive power of social media to drive change and combat loneliness.The winners and runners up will be announced in March of 2020. I’ll keep you posted!

This focus on technology is concerning to me, as technology can often be the cause of loneliness, not the solution. We all need to remember to see the people behind the posts on social media and emails. So in that vein, I was pleased to see the English government is also investing £800,000 in another new initiative that supports activity in community spaces to promote social connections. This investment is being matched by the charitable arm of one of the nation’s largest grocery stores: the Co-Op Foundation, which supports projects that make a difference to local communities near to the supermarket’s branches.

The BBC and public transportation companies are also getting in on the act. The BBC promoted its own initiative “Crossing Divides on the Move.” This campaign invites conversations between commuters on public transportation in an effort to fight loneliness. Some train companies have created “chat carriages” to promote conversations and a few bus companies are placing conversation starter recommendations on each bus seat. This may seem a bit hokey to some, but if it helps one person, so be it.

It is great to see the government, charities and businesses all jumping in to address this loneliness epidemic, yet I think it really is going to take all of us to resolve this situation. We all need to remember that technology cannot solve these issues in a vacuum. Yes, it is wonderful that you sent an email to say hi to a friend or family member, but it is the deeper connection that really matters. We can use technology to communicate, but I believe we need face-to-face interactions to address loneliness. As for me, I plan to invite someone to lunch this week.



Water is Life

Water is Life
By Tim Johnson
September 2019

Are you thirsty right now? Take a minute and check it out.

It seems to be a fact that most older adults do not drink nearly enough liquids. What causes this “reduction in thirst” as we age? No one seems to know exactly. However, the consequences of not drinking an adequate amount of water are well known and dehydration is a common cause of hospitalization among older adults.

The National Institute of Health tells us that water makes up 75% of our brain mass and it is the main component of our bodies. Studies show that dehydrated older adults, people of all ages who are dehydrated by exercise and children who are dehydrated, tend to underperform in cognitive tasks.

So what can one do to avoid dehydration and stay both mentally and physically fit?

When asked his recommendation for staving off dehydration, Lake Merritt resident Dr. Leon Shore, a retired practioner of Family Medicine, stated simply, “drink lots of water!” When pressed, he defined “lots” to mean eight 8 ounce glasses per day.

So here’s the catch-22: how can one possibly drink eight glasses of water per day when a person is starting to experience that annoying “reduction in thirst” syndrome? The easy answer is to make hydration an all-day event.

Here are some helpful tips: The Mayo Clinic agrees with our Dr. Leon that eight 8 glasses of water a day is a reasonable goal. How much water is that? We suggest that you use an eight ounce glass as a measure. An easy way to figure how much this is would be to fill a large bottle or a pitcher with 8 glasses of 8 ounces and track your progress throughout the day. Since most of us can’t drink 8 ounces of water all at once without feeling bloated and uncomfortable, just take a few sips at a time. Many of us have a glass of water by our bedside to stay hydrated 24 hours a day.

Drinking water all day can get boring, so feel free to mix it up! You can add a squeeze of lemon, lime or some sliced cucumber for a refreshing flavor. You might substitute milk, fresh squeezed juice, herbal teas and smoothies, but avoid drinks high in sugar.

Caffeinated beverages like black tea and coffee will have a slight diuretic effect and while it’s OK to enjoy them, consider this choice in moderation.

Incorporate water-rich foods such as watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, cucumber and lettuce into your diet. Lower sodium soups and broths are also very hydrating and nutritious.

Get a drinking buddy! Since staying hydrated is important for everyone this shouldn’t be hard to do. Check in on each other and offer words of encouragement to stay smart.

Please note that people with certain medical conditions may have more specific fluid needs. Make sure to consult with your medical professional before making changes to your diet or liquid intake. Remember: Make Water Your Friend!

Photo Caption:  Residents Gloria Frey and Kate Edwards share a toast



Tim Johnson Returns!

Tim Johnson Returns!
Meet Our New Executive Director
By Randall and Cheryl Berger
August 2019

We are delighted to welcome Tim Johnson back to The Lake Merritt as our new, full time Executive Director. Tim is a seasoned senior housing professional, who is beloved in the industry. He actually began his senior housing career more than ten years ago right here at The Lake Merritt.

Johanna Leonard, our former Executive Director and seasoned real estate professional, will stay on with the organization, but her duties will change. The needs of our real estate and property management businesses, Berger Enterprises, where Johanna first started nearly 30 years ago, continues its growth. Greater duties and tasks are waiting for Johanna - calling for her to take a greater role with the company. For the past eight years, Johanna has helped build The Lake Merritt and the Terrace Room into the unique and well-respected senior living community and public restaurant that they are. She will still be involved with The Lake Merritt and will use the experience she has gained to guide Tim.

Previous to joining The Lake Merritt, Tim Johnson spent the past five years in management and leadership roles at Bayside Park Assisted Living and Memory Care in Emeryville, working primarily as Community Life Director. Based on the need, Tim stepped into other roles at Bayside as well, including Assisted Living Director, Memory Care Director, Marketing Director and he often covered as the Executive Director. Previously, Tim worked as Branch Manager for a local home care agency, interacting with clients, care managers and caregivers. Tim began his career at The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living a decade ago and the spark he experienced at that time ignited his enduring passion working with seniors.

Along with his work history, Tim holds a RCFE Administrator Certification, (Residential Care for the Elderly) and Activity Director Certification, both issued by the State of California. He is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. “I am so happy to bring my knowledge and expertise back to The Lake Merritt,” he told us. “It feels like I have come home.”



New Snow Park Sizzles on a Hot Day

New Snow Park Sizzles on a Hot Day
by Johanna Leonard
July 2019

The culmination of Oakland’s Lake Merritt’s $198.2 million dollar renovation was officially celebrated on Monday, June 10 at 10:30 am with a heat wave. Snow Park, with its sweeping views of downtown and adjacent to Lake Merritt, is the last major piece of construction to be completed on the 2002 voter approved bond measure designed to improve Oakland’s urban waterfront.

Many City of Oakland officials came out for the Grand Re-Opening of the Snow Park Promenade, located at the corner of Harrison & 20th Streets. Mayor Libby Schaaf braved the heat and thanked the Oakland voters for approving Measure DD and appreciated the many people in the Oakland Department of Transportation and Oakland Public Works for the beautiful results. We at The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living were also thanked for our patience during the time period when lots of street parking was being renovated and not available to us.

This renovation project is nothing short of beautiful. The area along Lake Merritt has newly designed pedestrian paths and crossings, newly protected bicycle tracks paths and intersections, a newly tree -lined pedestrian promenade, a running trail along the lake, and rain gardens to treat storm water runoff. Everywhere you look, it is green, green and more green. What a spectacular oasis in this urban environment. It is a wonderful asset for those working in Oakland and is a lovely walking destination for our residents, just a few blocks from the front doors of The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living.

Snow Park itself is very inviting. For those who know dDdowntown Oakland, Snow Park was a little park near the water where workers could get out of their high-rises and soak up a little sun and enjoy a little air. It was quaint. The park had some volleyball nets, which were used, and a small golfing green. It is now so much more. There is a delightful playground for children, a new putting green, and acres of green lush grass to sit upon and picnic.

Snow Park is named after Henry Snow, an early Oaklander and big-game hunter who had a passion for animals both alive and stuffed. Oakland historian Annalee Allen writes that “Snow lived near the lake with his wild animal taxidermy collection and also had a small enclosure for live animals next to his home that became an educational feature of countless school field trips on his property.” After Snow’s death, his daughter set up a zoo in the hills. His wild-animal taxidermy collection was on display at the Cutting Mansion, located in the park, from 1922 to 1967. The collection later became part of The Oakland Museum.

We can thank the voters of Oakland who approved the bond measure for the improvements at Lake Merritt and its tidal estuary. The entire revitalization includes new parks, trails, bridges, a recreation center, an arts center, land acquisition, creek restoration, and lots more. The Snow Park revitalization was the last area around Lake Merritt to be completed, and it was well worth the wait.



Do You Have Questions About Marijuana?

by Johanna Leonard 
June 2019

Now legal in California, cannabis shops are popping up throughout the Bay Area. Many older adults have questions about its use and the medical claims being made about it.

As a service to our residents and as a community service, The Lake Merritt hosted recently a talk in our “Topics of Merritt” series by Linda Jacobsen from Elders Together and Kasana Care on the topic of marijuana and its medical applications. “I find that today’s older adults are very savvy and practical people when considering cannabis use,” Jacobsen said. “So much new scientific understanding has emerged in the past five years and current studies have demonstrated benefits from cannabis for general mental health, including cognition, mood, stress and anxiety applications,” Jacobsen explained.

“Of course, seniors should talk to their doctors about whether they should use cannabis or not,” Jacobsen said. “Yet, because Californians have been using cannabis in medical applications since 1996, if their doctor is not current on this, there are highly reputable doctors and other licensed practioners who have expertise, many with a focus on oncology, psychiatry and drug interactions, who can help. “

After the talk, one of our residents told me that she is really happy to have marijuana for older adults beginning to be discussed more widely as she uses cannabis for sleep. She told me that she was using prescription medications for sleep for years and did not like the effects. She felt she never had good sleep and knew that lack of sleep can affect other chronic conditions. Her cardiologist is fine with her using marijuana and she now sleeps up to 7 hours per night. She explained that her sleep is deeper and of higher quality and she feels that she is more rested. There is also a beneficial side effect to using cannabis for sleep, she said, which is that her arthritic hands are better.

For upcoming talks in the “Topics of Merritt” Series, which are free and open to the public, visit our Events calendar.



Geek Out

by Johanna Leonard 
April 2019


We are happy to announce an innovative partnership with the University of California (CAL) Berkeley’s “Science@ Cal program.” As part of The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living’s “Topics of Merritt” series, members of the public can enjoy free talks by many of the university’s key teachers and researchers as they tell us about new scientific activity with a focus on the creativity and innovation.

From astronomy to zoology, these “Topics of Merritt” talks will take place throughout the year and offer our residents and visitors a chance to get a first-hand understanding of some of the most important inventions and inquiries that are shaping our world today.

Many of us have heard the word STEM, which refers to the growing emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics in education for younger people. Now older adults can gain an insider’s view and a greater understanding of their world and the scientific trends which can affect them. Subjects range from innovations that are in the pipeline for medical treatment, to the latest communication inventions, to the new discoveries we are finding through our exploration of outer space and more.

“The best way for those interested in this new program is to check out The Lake Merritt’s calendar of events page for announcements related to our guest speakers,” said Ryan Wilcox, Program Coordinator, who works with the university to set up the programs.

For example, The Lake Merritt will present a talk entitled “House Plant Botany: The Inside Scoop About Your Photosynthetic Housemates!” Allyson Greenlon, Public Programs Coordinator for the Jepson Herbarium at UC Berkeley will speak about the plants we grow inside our homes and their wild history before being domesticated. In the question and answer session that follows Ms Greenlon’s presentation we might find out if talking to our plants really makes a difference in their growth rate and vitality!

The Lake Merritt has also partnered with Chabot Space and Science Center, offering talks by Rebecca Arntz, a scientist, veterinarian and docent. Her most recent talk was on America’s historic Apollo missions and humanity’s first steps on the moon.



An Insider’s Look at The Sea Ranch

by Johanna Leonard & Ryan Wilcox
February 2019

Hailed for its sweeping ocean views, shared open space and meditative tranquility, The Sea Ranch is a famed planned community on the Northern California coast.

The original sketches and drawings from the project’s designers, along with archival images, photographs and a full-scale architectural replica are featured in a major museum show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOA) through April 28, 2019.

I was lucky enough to sit down with one of The Sea Ranch’s original architects, Richard Whitaker, to discuss the exhibit, The Sea Ranch’s origins and his new home on Lake Merritt.

“The big idea of The Sea Ranch was that the built environment and the land had to be brought together in a kind of 50-50 relationship…with half the land being untouched,” Whitaker explained.

The 10-mile swath of Sonoma County on which the community was built boasts “an incredible variety of topography,” he said. The combination of rolling hills, redwood forests, beaches, plateaus, cliffs and hedgerows “forces you to think differently.”

Sea Ranch Master Planner Larry Halprin and a small team of forward-thinking planners and architects, including Whitaker’s Berkeley-based MLTW firm, wanted the community to blend into, take advantage of and call attention to the landscape’s distinctive features.

“What would you see when you opened the door?” Whitaker asked. “How would the light come in? How would you view certain trees from inside the house?” The young team thought carefully about questions like these when designing each new building. In fact, The Sea Ranch community’s design committee still often meets with architects and investors at proposed building sites for a half-day at a time – something Whitaker called “a very rare thing in architecture.”

“All too often, architects’ buildings don’t have the site in mind,” he mused. Referencing several photographs of he and his colleagues beginning the first building projects at The Sea Ranch, Whitaker says that the team would sometimes look out at the ocean and think, "You know, maybe we shouldn't build anything."

Whitaker applied The Sea Ranch philosophy of “living lightly on the land” when picking his current home at The Lake Merritt Independent Senior Living. He called the building’s Terrace Room restaurant “spectacular,” explaining how its large windows looking out on the lake let "the site make space.” “The Lake Merritt building doesn’t scream and yell at you to 'Look at me!'” he said of his new home’s Art Deco façade. "Some Art Decos are loud!" he laughed, but his new home fits right in with The Sea Ranch edict: "Don't overwhelm the place with your building."

Adherence to such environmental and architectural ideals are key themes in the new SFMOMA exhibit. The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment and Idealism. For more information about the exhibition visit

Photo: Courtesy of SFMOMA Press - Photo of Richard Whitaker, Donlyn Lyndon, Charles Moore, and William Turnbull in Condominium One courtyard, photographed by Jim Alinder, 1991; photo: Jim Alinder



Adventures of Merritt: A Time For Hawking

by Ryan Wilcox
February 2019

At The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living we seek out unique enrichment opportunities wherever they may be – even if they’re well off the beaten path.

Every month, our residents and I get together to talk about how things are going and what we would like to do the following month. We entertain all kinds of ideas for procedural changes (a resident movie selection committee!), in-house events (talent show!) and trips (party in Bolinas!).

In December, a resident named Kate proposed a trip to see a small play in a one-of-a-kind theater in the Julia Morgan-designed Berkeley City Club. The play, A Time For Hawking, would be a world premier by Indra’s Net Theater Company based on a fateful night in the early life of famed scientist Stephen Hawking. The crowd approved.

So, on a Wednesday night in early January, we traveled in our community’s van to the City Club and found our seats just feet from the performers. (This theater only has three rows!) After hearing the pre-show talk, which helped us brush up on some of the dense science ideas that would be discussed in the play, the lights went down and we and the rest of the audience of 30 people were enveloped in the action.

While the play could be intellectually challenging at times, the emotional chord it struck with the audience was more surprising. I spotted a number of wet eyes in the play’s second half, when (spoiler alert) Hawking connects with fellow New Year’s Eve partygoer (and future wife), Jane Wilde, while discussing his recent diagnosis of motor neuron disease.

Our own resident, Mitzi, who relies on a scooter to get around most of the time, was inspired. “I was moved by (Hawking’s) courage and how engaged he was with the world despite his physical disability…It’s inspiring to someone like me who struggles with engaging in the world,” Mitzi, , enthused. “I like going to controversial things and things that are tough,” she added. “We have a lot of people [at The Lake Merritt] who are hungry for intellectual challenge, so this was show great; we need more of that stimulation.”

We all left the little theater feeling challenged and engaged by the actors who stood just a few feet away and by the director who talked with several of us after the show.