I Think I’ll Take Up Watercolors

By Tim Johnson
May 2022

As a small boy I remember my grandmother’s talent for arts and crafts. I would sit while she attempted to teach me how to do whatever project she was working on. Whether it was making beautiful beaded ornaments for a Christmas tree, hand-made lace doilies or embroidering napkins, I was mesmerized.

Over the years I’ve heard people say things like “I think I’ll take up watercolors when I retire” or “Learning how to make pottery in my later years has been exhilarating.” I can’t help but wonder if there is a correlation between finally having the time to create and the benefits that could affect our well being?

Studies show that engaging in creative art pursuits provide older adults with multiple benefits, not the least of which is enhanced cognitive function. Scientists examining the engagement of older adults with art therapy and music therapy confirm that art can affect them in very positive ways. Exercising our creative selves can often induce psychological and physiological healing, while nurturing overall well-being. And it’s fun.

Gene Cohen, MD, PhD, director of the Center on Aging at George Washington University, was the first researcher to conduct a national study on art and the quality of life. He found that engagement with the arts have a positive effect on health and illness as we age. The benefits are there for both the creator and viewer. Some of these benefits include helping individuals relax, assisting in socialization, encouraging playfulness and a sense of humor.

The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living boasts a large group of residents who are artists. Pat K. (pictured) has been painting all her life. She told me she chose her apartment in our community because the kitchen has a lake view and she set it up as an art studio! Jon C. has been drawing for over sixty years. He currently has a collection of his sketches on exhibit at The Lake Merritt from the present day dating back to 1946. Jon said he looks forward to our weekly open art studio where he can draw in the company of others and share creative ideas with fellow artists. Another resident, Pat R. has dabbled with different art forms throughout her life. She said, “Now that I am retired, I have so much more time for art and I believe it’s good for my soul.”

Many of our residents share a love of art and that’s what drives some of the programs at The Lake Merritt. We visit Bay Area arts and crafts exhibits, open art studios, take art history courses and make regular trips to museums and galleries. As for me, I am inspired by the many talented artists at The Lake Merritt, and though I won’t equal their caliber, but when I retire I think I’ll take up watercolors! How about you?

On this theme, we are particularly excited to offer a FREE Zoom presentation by Oakland painter and poet Charles Blackwell entitled, “Painting Beyond Vision” on May 26, 2022, at 3:30pm.

An artist since a young age, Blackwell suffered an accident that damaged his eyes and is now legally blind. When he lost most of his eyesight, his doctor told him, “Take your defect and make it an asset.” Blackwell has grown to embody this phrase. He creates his artwork using acrylic paints, ink and canvas by leaning in very closely to see the canvas through his limited peripheral vision. Blackwell has been the subject of a documentary film “The God Given Talent” and was featured recently in a profile by the San Francisco Chronicle.

We're thrilled to host this talented and uplifting artist in our Topics of Merritt series. You’re invited join us by registering at or you may call 510-903-3600 for more information.



Finding Your Voice Through Poetry

By Tim Johnson
April 2022

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? It reminds us that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters. Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world! Our own Oakland Public Library has a variety of programs, new books of poetry on display, and performances by Oakland’s own poets to help you celebrate. My interest piqued, I asked myself, ”why poetry?”

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that poetry can provide comfort and boost mood during periods of stress, trauma and grief. It’s a powerful combination of words, metaphor and meter that help us better express ourselves and make sense of the world and our place in it. The benefits of poetry can extend to just about anyone. Using poetry to find our own voice can open up new ways of expressing ourselves and discovering ways to heal and restore us.

The residents at The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living have a monthly club where they share their favorite poems with each other as well as offering up some they have written. Our resident Cleo told me “Poetry says a lot in so many ways to different individuals. It’s a way of expressing yourself to others,” she said. Another resident, Laura, agrees and remembers her mother reading poetry to her when she was a baby. Laura then recited a poem to me that she remembered from her early childhood.

Laura’s experience supports the theory that our brains are highly attuned to rhyme and rhythm in poetry. As every parent knows, infants respond to rhymes, youngsters and teenagers respond to lyrics, which are like poems combined with melody, and even football fans enjoy participating in rhythmic chants at the stadium.

Studies have also shown that some poetry boosts memory and encourages self-reflection. Words can stick with you and inspire you to re-read a poem and often memorize the words. Poetic words tend to be easier to memorize than non-poetic ones. Our resident Laura reminded me of my second grade speech competition where I memorized, recited and actually performed “Mumps,” by Elizabeth Madox Roberts. Besides winning first place, I can still recite that poem several decades later!

Our community has always been engaged with our local public library. Just last fall we hosted a special on-line reading by the award-winning young writers from the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Program, a program of the Oakland Public Library. Designed to celebrate literacy through poetry and connect young writers to the public, we were happy to have two of the program’s finalists speak to us. Dara Kashayar and Siara Edmond read some of their poetry and then were asked questions by our residents and those watching our online Zoom program.



Music: The Ultimate Brain Exercise

By Tim Johnson
March 2022

To keep your body running at peak performance, it needs regular maintenance: a spring tune-up, so to speak. The lovely spring days we are experiencing now encourage us to exercise by getting out and walking or taking an aerobics class. In our haste to firm up our body by heading to the gym, let’s not forget the need to exercise our brain as well.

Did you know there are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does? Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have found that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain. Plus, they found that music can help improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory. If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, it seems like listening to or playing music is a great tool. It can provide a total brain workout!

So just how does music do this? The answer is that music can activate almost all brain regions and networks. Thus, music can help us keep our brain pathways strong, including networks that are involved in well-being, cognitive function, quality of life, and happiness. In fact, studies show there is only one other situation in which you can activate so many brain networks at once, and that is when you participate in social activities.

Here at The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living, we firmly believe in the benefits of music. As a social activity we have an active Glee Club, because the act of singing lowers stress and releases endorphins that help make us happy. Research also shows that choir singing releases an antibody which boosts our immune system. Further, singing has been shown to enhance the memory part of the brain.

With the pandemic waning, The Lake Merritt is happy to welcome back live music into our community on a weekly basis. The Jazz Therapists, featuring local jazz performer, Anna de Leon, performed in The Terrace Room just last week. This seven-member band plays in communities for older adults throughout the Bay Area. Our residents enjoy the music and many also take to the dance floor in our Terrace Room, which overlooks Lake Merritt.

If you are interested in some everyday brain boosts from music, you may want to try these ideas. Try listening to what your kids or grandkids are listening to. New music challenges the brain in a way that old music does not. It might not feel pleasurable at first, but that unfamiliarity forces the brain to struggle to understand the new sound. You can also increase brain power by listening to familiar music and recalling a memory. Does listening to a certain Frank Sinatra song bring you back to the first moment you laid eyes on your spouse? Listening to music can help you decompress or motivate you. Pay attention to which kinds of music stimulate or soothe you.

I’ve heard it said that our brain loves music like Willy Wonka loves chocolate. Knowing all we know about how music helps the brain, you can literally use it as an intentional way to support your general wellness. Enjoy a piece of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate too while you enjoy the music!





Salmon in Lake Merritt?

By Tim Johnson
February 2022

Oakland’s rock star biologist, Damon Tighe, is the headliner for our free-to-the-public “Topics of Merritt” speaker series on March 10, 2022 at 3:30pm. We are so happy to offer an encore appearance by this charming biotechnologist and urban naturalist who has been featured on local news programs and articles. For this Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living’s “Topics of Merritt” program, Tighe will present “Fish and Friends of Lake Merritt's Waters.” Plus, he’ll highlight the incredible fact that salmon are finding their way back into the Lake Merritt watershed!

Our “Topics of Merritt” series is designed to offer our residents and a wider audience access to some of the most interesting and compelling speakers from our community and beyond. We’ve found that people and subjects of interest to older adults are also compelling to the general population. Since its inception, “Topics of Merritt” has featured some big names: Dr. Jill Tarter of the SETI program who is the scientist at the center of the movie “Contact”; San Francisco Chronicle Theater Critic Lily Janiak; international ballerina Stephanie Herman who performed with Nureyev; and numerous experts in fall prevention, renowned chefs to tell us about great ways to cook more healthy meals, and much more. Check out the archive of many of these free talks on our website.

As for Tighe’s upcoming talk, it seems that Chinook salmon have been spotted in East Bay rivers and streams that lead to Lake Merritt since late fall. Tighe tells us that they have been showing up in the hundreds! Oakland residents have reported sightings in the lake near Glen Echo where the creek runs alongside the Veterans Memorial Building, by the Laney College football field, as well as a tributary that begins in the Oakland hills around Mountain View Cemetery and empties into the northwest branch of the lake near the intersection of Grand Avenue and Harrison Street.

If you attend the Topics of Merritt talk you’ll learn it’s a big deal. Chinook salmon have not been seen in the lake in over two decades! Once prevalent in Lake Merritt, salmon typically don’t survive in the area now due to man-made culverts and pollution.

Sign up for this lecture at



Our New Year’s Resolutions

By Tim Johnson
January 2022

Civilizations around the world have been celebrating the start of each New Year for at least four millennia. Common traditions include attending parties, eating special New Year’s foods, making resolutions for the new year and watching fireworks displays.

But when the singing, fireworks and champagne toasts are over, many of us become more serious about life. We take stock and plan new courses of action to better our lives. This is best seen in one of the most popular customs of the new year: making resolutions. So why are so many of my friends shunning this custom this year?

I was having a discussion about making resolutions with a group of Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living residents the other day. Our residents have had the chance to make many resolutions for each of their new years!

After my informal poll, the general consensus was to not make resolutions! Pat said, “In all honesty, I don’t make them because I never can keep them!” Gloria added “New Year’s Day is a new chance to try again. Yet, I don’t make resolutions because each and every day I look forward to doing better!” Another resident added, “I think of each day as a new beginning.”

Since many resolutions result in taking something away, I think I will adopt Gloria’s approach. It seems one is more likely to accomplish a goal that is specific and based on doing something each day instead of avoiding something or taking something away.

I always appreciate talking with our residents. There is definitely something to be said for aging and wisdom. As I’ve travelled through life, I learned it’s better for me not to make a New Year’s resolution, than to make one and fail.

So my goal to cut down on sugar will result in my buying only one box of cookies from the grocery store each week. My main goal, to resume my exercise regime, will begin after my birthday celebration - which is just around the corner!

Our residents seem to be in agreement - that the time to set goals is when we are motivated to keep them, not just because the calendar flipped to 2022. I think that with this approach we have a better shot at keeping our resolutions, rather than having failure again slap us in the face. Let’s set and keep goals, not just at the New Year, but at any time we feel moved to do so! Welcome 2022! We have the entire year of fresh starts ahead of us! Happy New Year!

Photo - Resident considering her resolution



We’re Celebrating the Season of Giving!

By Tim Johnson
November 2021

Our residents, Peter Hewitt and Madeline Reiter, are happy to be part of the Give Back Committee at The Lake Merritt - Independent Living. This can-do husband and wife team helped form the committee last year as a way to help fellow residents find new ways to give back to the community.

I asked them if they were continuing any family traditions of giving back? Peter replied, “In the past we volunteered at Berkeley Friends Church serving dinners to the homeless as well as collecting food and essential items for them.” Madeline added, “Many of our fellow residents have expressed a desire to address this need as well.”

“After discussions, we’re partnering with St. Vincent de Paul and Meals on Wheels this year,” Madeline said. Right now, residents are assembling tote bags which, led by Pete, are being decorated in holiday themes and filled with personal care and other essential items for people living on the streets. “This is something that has been very close to our hearts for many years,” Pete said.

Resident David Adams is also a proud member of the committee. David is championing fundraising for Meals on Wheels of Alameda County. “We all need food to eat and many people right here in our neighborhood are having trouble getting enough food,” David said. “The impact of COVID-19 has greatly increased this need over the past 20 months. I believe now more than ever we need to step up to help.” David’s goal is to continue fundraising throughout 2022, giving quarterly donations to the charity.

For so many of us, the holidays are the season of giving: holding our loved ones close and offering thanks for our many gifts. This time inspires reflections on spiritual matters, showing appreciation to our family and friends, and helping those around us who need an extra hand. While some people are generous throughout the year, many of us get a special pleasure of spreading a little extra holiday cheer to people in their community.

Over the years, the residents of The Lake Merritt have joined together to support local, national, and international charities. Some of our most popular fundraising activities have been food drives for our local Alameda County Food Bank, and purchasing new toys as part of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Holiday Toy Collection Drive. Last year, the residents also raised money for a coalition called Keep Oakland Housed, which helps Oakland residents at risk of losing their homes by providing legal representation, financial assistance, and supportive services to help them remain in their homes.

No matter what your definition of giving is, it is important to know that there are other ways to bring this holiday season of joy to others. Whether it is through old-fashioned gift giving, or spreading kindness and showing selflessness, we know that our gifts at any time of the year can be meaningful and incredibly beautiful. It all starts with you.

You can easily join us in our 2021 campaign! Make a donation to St. Vincent de Paul at or visit Meals on Wheels of Alameda County at or support any charity close to your heart.



Staying Socially Active as You Age – Cha Cha Cha!

By Tim Johnson
October 2021

We already know that staying physically active in your autumn years offers a variety of health benefits, like lessening chronic pain, delaying and preventing certain diseases, and helping you recover faster from an illness or injury.

While physical exercise is important for a high quality of life, the connections we make with others, and the relationships we continue to build, also have a major impact on our overall wellness.

I’ve learned that staying socially active is just as important as remaining physically active. According to the National Institute on Aging, as people get older, they often find themselves spending more and more time at home alone.

Research tells us that older people with an active lifestyle are less likely to develop certain diseases. Participating in hobbies, like taking an art class and other social and leisure pursuits, may lower the risk for developing some health problems and can help to maintain our well-being. Other studies show how participating in creative arts, like music and dance, might help people age as well.

For many, the number one reason to move into an independent senior community is that they have acknowledged the need for a more active and engaged life.

Here at The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living, we have a huge calendar of social activities for our residents. Our free exercise classes such as Yoga, Zumba, and Core Strengthening, with our on-site personal trainers, are not only great physical activities but are a great way to socialize as well. Plus, we recently added a ballroom dance class and residents are refreshing their skills with the waltz, foxtrot, and cha cha! They’re loving it!

The Lake Merritt offers lots of programming inspired by our residents, as well as our weekly series of talks designed for older adults, Topics of Merritt. While residents attend these programs in person, we invite the community to join us for free via Zoom. We are particularly excited about an upcoming program on November 4th at 3:30 pm. Passions of a Dancer is an inspirational presentation by former Principal Ballerina, Stephanie Herman. She shares her struggle to make her dreams come true and eventually dances worldwide with ballet legends such as Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. If you would like to join us for this Zoom presentation, register online at:

Our recent monthly outings included a visit to Oakland’s Compound Art Gallery, a sunny picnic in Piedmont Park, and a trip to the city’s famed pumpkin patch. Residents are looking forward to exploring Oakland Museum’s latest exhibit, Mothership: Voyage Into Afrofuturism, later this month.

Physical activities, cultural outings, and educational programs can all help us stay engaged and socially active. Living in an independent senior community, such as The Lake Merritt, can help support these goals. As our residents say, custom programs and outings, along with dining with new friends, not having to deal with home maintenance anymore, and of course, enjoying a new home right on one of the most beautiful lakes in California, makes life happy and meaningful.



Oakland’s Poets, Laney Students and Our Residents – a Win-Win!

By Tim Johnson
October 2021

Several years ago I read about a community for older adults in the Netherlands that allows university students to live there rent-free! What a deal! In exchange for a small apartment, the students do a variety of activities with the older residents, including watching sports together, celebrating birthdays and, perhaps most importantly, offering personal interaction and companionship to seniors as their school schedule permits.

Here in the United States, intergenerational programs have become a growing trend within senior living. As we emerge from the confines of Covid-19, we can attest to the value of both intergenerational programming as well as intergenerational living communities. The pandemic forced multiple generations of families to live together, to rely on each other as jobs were lost, school was canceled and younger family members were able to assist their older relatives.

The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living is on the leading edge of intergenerational programming. Just last week we hosted a reading by the award-winning young writers from The Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Program. It’s an unprecedented citywide effort to celebrate literacy through poetry and connect young writers to far-reaching opportunities. Two of the program’s finalists, Dara Kashayar and Siara Edmond were participants with us. They read some of their poetry and then were asked questions by our residents and those watching online.

The first question we asked the students was “How has interacting with older adults impacted you and your writing?” We got a quick response from Dara who said, “My grandmother and parents emigrated from Iran. Persian culture teaches children to revere the wisdom their elders can impart. This is part of my identity; it definitely impacts my writing.” Another young Oakland poet, Siara, writes poems about her grandparents. “I appreciate the hard work they did in order to better the lives of their children and grandchildren,” she said.

For the past five years, The Lake Merritt has initiated an intergenerational program called “Conversation Exchange.” We partner with Laney College students who are learning English as a second language. Students come to The Lake Merritt after classes to meet with our residents and build their English language fluency by conversing on a wide range of topics. This program has been wildly successful and a win-win for both students and our residents.

Our resident Mary met Etta, a Chinese student through the program. Mary said, “I love working with Etta. Our meetings together are valuable to both of us. She is so bright and her English gets better all the time. It’s a good feeling knowing I have had a hand in helping her,” Mary added.

In a world seemingly more divided each day, intergenerational programs offer connective solutions that benefit everyone. According to the California Health Report, intergenerational programming is a solution for two problems at once: kids get the attention they crave – sparking better performance at school – while their elder counterparts enjoy improved emotional and physical health.



Introducing Evan Johnson

By Tim Johnson
September 2021

The Lake Merritt would like to introduce our new Program Director, Evan Johnson.

Evan comes to us as a theatre maker and teaching artist. He graduated Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in 2006, and he has worked professionally as a multi-hyphenate performance-maker ever since. His love for community based projects, ensemble creation, and artistic collaboration continue to inspire both his life and work.

Since 2015, he has worked with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department cultivating an environment of creative risk-taking and playfulness for older adults to boldly express themselves and share personal stories inside theatrical forms. Evan has witnessed firsthand just how profound the act of making and sharing with the senior population can be.

For the past several years he has been working with seniors creating programs sponsored by San Francisco Village. He was instrumental in moving many of these programs to a ZOOM format at the beginning of and throughout the pandemic.

“After being a ‘community explorer’ my whole life, I am thrilled to be a part of the community at The Lake Merritt and I am delighted to be given this opportunity,” Evan said.

We are excited to have Evan join us here as well. Welcome Evan!




Is It Time to Make Your Move?

By Tim Johnson
August 2021

The other day I took a call from a woman; we’ll call her Susan, who said she wanted to discuss living in a senior community.  “When COVID hit I sheltered in place,” she said. “Yet, after all this time I’m feeling like a hermit – I’m so separated from the world.”

“If living through this pandemic has shown us anything,” I told her, “it’s the importance of community and socialization.  So many people have felt isolated and lonely.”

After chatting for a while, I asked a number of questions: 

Are you tired of being a homeowner?  Are you struggling to keep up with housework, the yard, and home maintenance?  What happens when you can no longer drive?  How much longer do you want to be climbing your staircases?“

“If you are wrestling with these ‘what-if’ questions,” I suggested, “you might consider your options for moving to a more supportive and active community environment.” 

She then asked me if I knew what had prompted some of our residents to move into The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living, and so I decided to ask some of them!

Sam said, “The thing I like the most is the location.  I love to walk and walking around the lake is great.  I also like the exercise classes.  When you are in a group you are encouraged to participate more.”

Judy told me, “I moved in because of the food.  I was sick of cooking and the chef’s weekly menu never disappoints me.  His salads are the best!”

Mary Lou told me without hesitation, “I was getting so depressed looking at my backyard.  I could no longer take care of it and it got run down.  Plus having to get a new hot water heater put me over the edge.  In less than a week, after moving, I was so relaxed - like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

I decided to call Susan and report back to her what I found out from some of our residents and offered some guidance if she decided to go forward. 

Check out each community’s programs and activities.  For some, the cuisine is the most important, for others its amenities like game rooms and clubs, outdoor recreation, reading spaces and computer centers.  If you are a pet lover, find out if the community is pet friendly.  Talk to current residents when you take a tour and meet some of the team members.

Then I told Susan a little secret.  I asked, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could “test drive” a senior living community before making a commitment?  The Lake Merritt offers a very limited "try it, you'll like it" option, depending on the apartment homes we have available.  The only way to find out about this exclusive deal is to call and ask to take a tour.”

When it comes to senior living communities there is no one-size-fits-all.  They all offer attractive amenities, but it’s important to consider how these features will benefit you directly.  Stay true to your personal interests and wishes, and you’re sure to find the community to enhance your own way of life.