Scams on the Rise

By Tim Johnson
August 2021

I received a phone call from my 80-year-old mother last week. She was distressed because she and my dad had been informed that their furnace had been “red-tagged.” They would not be able to use it this winter until it was repaired. The repairs were going to cost a minimum of $5,000.

How did this happen? My parents received a postcard in the mail that offered a “Free Inspection of Your Air Conditioning and Heating System.” My dad thought this would be a good idea.

The technician showed up and said there was a laundry list of things that were wrong. He took pictures and “red-tagged” the furnace, warning that “The furnace was extremely dangerous and could not be used until it had been repaired.”

Fortunately, my mother thought to ask for a report, copies of the pictures and a written estimate to be emailed to her. It’s been over a week now and the report has not been sent. I told them I felt they had been victims of a scam.

For those of us who are “internet savvy,” we may have been able to do a bit of research with a few clicks and to determine that the company was a scammer or a fraudster. Crooks are constantly upping their game - discovering new ways to trap people.

Residents who live at The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living tell me that they are so happy not to have to deal with home maintenance anymore. They are free to pursue their personal interests and are relieved not to be concerned with painting, plumbing repairs and yard work, or having to deal with things that are grimy, heavy, or worse yet, getting up on ladders.

Still, our residents are not immune from the con artists. I’ve read that scammers are increasingly using phone calls and text messages to steal personal information which can put their financial accounts at risk. According to Kara Suro, Vice President of Fraud Surveillance and Investigations at Charles Schwab, “Criminals are doing their homework. They continue to find ways to trick people into providing information via phone or text.”

For example, the scammer sends a text message to the potential victim asking if he or she made a specific purchase. If the victim responds, “No,” the fraudster follows up with a phone call claiming to be from where the alleged purchase was made or the victim’s financial institution and asks for sensitive personal information.

Here are some ways to recognize these scammers and fraudsters. They will often pretend to be from an organization you know or say they are contacting you on behalf of a government agency such as Medicare or the IRS. They may say there is a “problem” such as you owe money. There will be pressure to act immediately and they will tell you to pay in a specific way to eradicate the issue.

Here are some ways everyone can use to avoid becoming a victim of a possible scam:

  1. Block unwanted calls and text messages.
  2. Don't give your personal or financial information in response to a request that you didn't expect.
  3. Resist the pressure to act immediately.
  4. Know how scammers tell you to pay.
  5. Stop and talk to someone you trust.

Unfortunately, older adults are the most frequent targets of fraud scams. Targets may be lonely, willing to listen and sometimes can be more trusting than younger individuals. Just keep your guard up and remember what you taught your children: “Be aware of strangers - they may not be looking out for your best interests” and “When in doubt, check it out!”



Let’s Get Going!

By Tim Johnson
July 2021

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got lots and lots of pent up energy and demand! With the lifting of mask restrictions on June 15 and the fact that vaccinated people can be active both inside and outside, it’s time to get going! Our residents agree! Let’s have some adventures!

Perhaps the most extensive outing we had recently was a visit to Pacifica, with its coastal beaches and ocean breezes. We stopped for lunch at The Ocean View Cafe in nearby Montara, where the owner, a former restaurant manager who worked for our community, made us a fabulous four-course meal. Afterward, we took an easy, paved walk on part of the coastline overlooking famed Devil's Slide. It was great bird watching! We took photos of the ocean as the Pacific showed its power, crashing on the shores below us.

Another outing we enjoyed was a trip to one of the most beautiful, serene and secret gardens in the Bay Area. With its panoramic Bay views, University of California Blake Garden in Kensington is a showcase for unique plantings. We were there for the peak of the spring flower season and were able to stroll the pathways of this 10.6 acre park. Blake Garden is a hidden delight that not many people know about. The home has been the official residence of the President of the University of California, and the garden (now open to the public) is under the management of the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture.

Have you heard about “Girl Gang Craft?” Our residents found them! They are a self-described “female-forward group” that took over the parking lot of Oakland’s Scottish Right Temple in June. GGC was a huge pop-up crafts fair, just a block from our community. Our visit was so much fun! We met Oakland artists and saw lots of arts, crafts, jewelry and custom clothing. We learned that GGC hosts crafts fairs throughout California, and is designed to lift up small creative businesses.

Other recent “let’s get going” outings included a visit to the Berkeley Art Museum to see some of the 3,000 African American quilts it recently received as a bequest, along with visits to Chabot and Redwood Regional Parks, which are always favorites. We loved a lunch outing to a new Oakland Mexican restaurant with a huge outdoor space, where we had great margaritas, tried the tres moles enchiladas and had coconut flan for dessert!

I asked our Program Director Ryan Wilcox, “What makes a great outing?” He said, “Every trip should be refreshing – a breath of fresh air. Something about the trip should give you a whole different window on life in the Bay Area.”

Wilcox continued, “Whether it is a nature walk, art appreciation, mingling with new people or trying new flavors, every month I get together with our residents and we plan for things we want to do and places we want to go. I try to surprise the residents with special little places that I think will delight them – places they might not know about, with gorgeous views or great flavors. We mix in old favorites with something new.”

After over a year of restrictions due to Covid-19, our community members are ready for more outings! Resident Pat said, “I love being out on a beautiful afternoon, just enjoying the woods and the breeze and the sunshine.” Gloria is happy to be making art outdoors, which she hasn’t done since she was young. As for me, croquet anyone?



Meditation: Food for the Mind and Soul

By Tim Johnson
May 2021

After a year of being cooped up, everyone I know is delighted with this beautiful spring weather we are having! Many of us are going outside and are so happy to increase our activity level to regain physical fitness.

Yet, one of the discoveries we’ve made in a year of staying indoors is that there are ways to develop our inner strength and resiliency. One very popular way we’ve found to restore ourselves in the face of the unpredictable, and to enrich both the mind and soul is through meditation and mindfulness exercises.

Residents of The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living community have found this to be true. Many have been practicing mindfulness exercises for years. Meghan Collins, a resident since 2012, has been a Zen practitioner for 45 years and lay teacher for 22 years. She has been leading our meditation group since she moved to The Lake Merritt. “The residents tell me it is very calming and beneficial,” Collins says.

Medical professionals concur! According to the National Institute of Health, there is a beneficial link between mindfulness meditation and measurable changes in the brain regions involved in memory, learning and emotion. Data indicates that mediation can also help improve psychological balance, coping with illness, and may enhance overall health and well-being.

The Lake Merritt’s yoga instructor, Bethany Hobbs, couldn’t agree more. She offers classes of Chair Yoga, Meditation & Relaxation, and Balance Awareness for our community. Her work focuses on breathing, balance, stretching and strengthening the body, as well as the mind, so that older adults can help keep both their minds and bodies more flexible and relaxed.

The Lake Merritt’s newest resident, Wes Nisker, is a Buddhist meditation teacher, author and performer. His books include national bestseller, Essential Crazy Wisdom, as well as Buddha’s Nature and The Big Bang, The Buddha, and the Baby Boom. Nisker has studied Buddhist meditation for over three decades with teachers in Asia and America, and for the past 15 years has been leading retreats and workshops in Buddhist insight meditation and philosophy at national and international venues.

Collins and Nisker were excited to meet one another and have recently joined forces in leading the mediation group at The Lake Merritt. When asked whether they prefer to lead or participate they are in agreement. “When you lead you are trying to experience what you are calling on others to do. You don't let go as deeply into the experience,” says Nisker. Collins added, “As a participant you can just let go. When you lead you have to keep track of the time and things around you. Over the years I’ve learned to do both.”

A major benefit of mindfulness mediation is that it encourages you to pay attention to your thoughts, your actions and your body. Finding time for mindfulness in our culture, however, can be a challenge. We tend to place great value on how much we can do at once and how fast. Still, being more mindful is within anyone’s reach.

Collins stated, "Over the years, it seems the practice of meditation has given me a lot more equilibrium." Given the very turbulent times we have been through recently, it seems like meditation might be just the thing for everyone!



The Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Tim Johnson
April 2021

The other day I saw the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy interviewed on television. Though he stressed the need to continue following CDC guidelines, he was happy to point out that because of the COVID vaccination successes, “we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel getting brighter and brighter.”

Talk like this gets me excited to think about life getting back to “normal,” though this looks quite different now than it did only a year ago. I know many people are wondering: Are senior living communities, including assisted living and independent living, safe to explore again in this “new normal?”

In answering this question, it appears that early data shows that the highest quality senior living communities adapted quickly and responsibly to COVID-19. They spent the last year implementing prevention measures and determining what healthy socialization looks like for their residents. Some of these plans included new opportunities for indoor exercise and dining, special learning activities, integrating entertainment and providing innovative ways for face-to-face engagement for residents and staff.

If you’re not certain that now is the right time to consider a community, ask yourself what has this past year been like for you and those you love? Many older adults have become more isolated because of the necessary precautions that were put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Today, more active older adults are making the move to senior living communities as a lifestyle choice. They want to be active in their retirement, relinquish daily tasks and home maintenance, and want to take advantage of the social aspects, custom services, amenities and opportunities created just for them.

Researchers have found that older adults who report the highest levels of well-being and happiness are those who socialize, work or volunteer and exercise with others. If you visit an independent living community or an assisted living community, you’ll find residents participating in many different activities, programs and committees. You’ll also find that each community’s culture is shaped by the residents who live there.

Diane Broch is the Community Relations Director here at The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living community. She has been getting a lot of calls from people who tell her they have been feeling so isolated these days and are more curious than ever about community living. “We are able to reassure them that our residents interact with each other on a daily basis and are fully vaccinated as are all newcomers to the community,” she explained. Broch continued, “It is a much healthier lifestyle to have a community of fellow residents and staff you can engage with, versus being alone in your home. We follow the CDC guidelines as they are released and really care about each other. Our residents are happy that they can engage with everyone here.”

With the light and the end of the tunnel getting brighter, all of us will have an opportunity to reassess our many options for what’s next. As for me, I know I am joined by our residents who are thrilled to be fully vaccinated and who can plan for a more active and involved future.



A Taste of Spring

By Tim Johnson
March 2021

March 11 marked the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Although the seasons have changed four times since then, I feel as though we have experienced a year-long winter. Winter is often viewed as a time of waiting and the pandemic has forced us into a time of stillness and a slower pace.

With vaccinations, the sharp decline in COVID-19 cases has resulted in our lives slowly returning to normal. It seems to me that we are experiencing a fresh new beginning. In this extra-long transition from winter into spring, there are “green shoots” representing new and positive changes everywhere - if you look for them.

These changes are noticeable here at The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Living community. Our residents, now fully vaccinated, are free to walk around mask-free within our community. They are able to engage with one another with ease and I can once again see the smiles on their faces. Following current CDC guidelines, our exercise teachers, art instructor and choir director have all returned, vaccinated and wearing masks. We had our first live music performance for residents in over a year and masked-up families and friends are visiting again. It feels great!

The biggest and most welcomed change is in our beautiful restaurant, The Terrace Room. No longer restricted to having only two persons per table behind a plastic barrier, residents are happy to sit together in small groups and socialize. One resident said that “along with enjoying the great food here, being able to share a meal with others completes the perfect dining experience.”

Executive Chef Michael Cook said, “The timing for the change couldn’t be better. Our favorite produce company’s sales rep, Ric, always says ‘asparagus is the harbinger of spring’ and I couldn’t agree more. It’s always great to incorporate locally grown fruits and vegetables into the menu, so I look forward to spring.”

Choosing the right produce is an important part of healthy eating for older adults, and Chef Michael knows what to look for. He said of the abundance of newly-grown spring greens, “You can't eat enough of them. They provide you with a seriously useful amount of vitamin C to support your immune system and vitamin K to build bone strength. Don’t forget about fresh fruit, especially strawberries,” Michael added while holding up a plump, dark red berry. “These little guys are known to protect your heart, lower your blood pressure, and are filled with antioxidants.”

For many people, food is a source of joy—and one that can help us live life at its fullest. Resident Judy couldn’t agree more, as she said: “Tuesday is my favorite day in The Terrace Room. It means a new lunch menu for the week and a special salad creation. Last week we were treated to a Chef Michael original: poached salmon on a bed of quinoa with cucumbers and asparagus with a Meyer lemon aioli dressing. It was outstanding! I can’t wait to see what he does next.”

As we slowly emerge from this year-long winter, I know we will continue to see positive changes. No matter how long the winter, we can celebrate the coming of spring knowing that family, friendship and good food are sure to follow.



Our Covid Heroes

By Tim Johnson
February 2021

As the Executive Director of The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living, I realized that I wanted to be very proactive about securing Covid-19 vaccinations for our community members. With a limited supply in California, it seemed like a daunting task, but if you’re like me, I got in touch with my determination. Beginning in December of last year, I began “working” the phones. Even though we are an independent living community, many of our members are vulnerable to illness due to aging, and some, if not all people, are at risk for serious illness resulting from the pandemic.

For those of us in the Bay Area and beyond, who have wanted the vaccine from the beginning, the distribution efforts have been painfully slow. When I learned that a limited supply was going to be available in Alameda County I reached out and began an effort to stay in touch with two tireless local government officials: Dustin and Andrew, who co-lead the Alameda County Health Department’s Covid Task Force. These two heroic and overwhelmed fellows were very, very helpful and absolutely supportive of my mission to vaccinate those of our community members at The Lake Merritt who wished to get the injections.

Because of everyones’ efforts, diligence and can-do attitude, I am happy to announce that we held our first vaccination clinic here at The Lake Merritt in mid-January and every single one of our residents chose to be vaccinated! We will be receiving our second dose in just a few days from now.

This is also due, in part, to another local hero of mine: Pharmacist Sudhir of Clayworth Pharmacy. This community pharmacy is dedicated to serving the health needs of our area, along with Castro Valley and San Leandro. Clayworth Pharmacy partnered wholeheartedly with our county administrators and are currently on a mission to vaccinate as many people as they can. As one of two small community-based pharmacies, they jumped in right away to help in this emergency; Clayworth brought their staff on-site to The Lake Merritt and vaccinated our residents here. Their daily task while on-site here (and I’m sure at other locations), was three vaccinations every five minutes!

Our residents gave careful consideration before getting vaccinated. Husband and wife residents Robert and Gloria said they felt ambivalent about the vaccine in the beginning since there seem to be so many unknowns. Yet, they agreed to take it, because it seems to offer long-term protection.

Resident Cleo reminded me that vaccine hesitancy in her community can be traced directly to a history of improper medical testing in addition to negative experiences with healthcare systems. Cleo stated, “As an African American and a retired R.N., I feel it’s my responsibility to my neighbors at The Lake Merritt, and to my surrounding community, that I receive the vaccine.”

As our residents were leaving the on-site clinic after their first injections, I asked some of them what it meant to them to get vaccinated. Pat said, “To me, it means freedom!” Cynthia agreed saying, “It means I can travel again.” Gloria added that taking the vaccine means “getting to see my grandchildren and spending time with my family again.”

My advice to everyone is don’t get frustrated with your search for the vaccine! Persistence works! First of all, reach out to your medical provider. Another option is the California Department of Public Health at for up-to-date registration and information. City agencies or county health departments may also know about new avenues and can recommend the best way for you to sign up for the vaccine. If you are not certain if taking the vaccine is right for you, before choosing not to, consider a visit to the CDC’s website and read their current information.

These are very trying times, but I’m confident that we will get through them by taking care of ourselves and each other! Stay well and stay safe!



How To Stay Active During a Lockdown

By Tim Johnson
January 2021

After the first of the year many of us look at our physical selves and realize that the previous holiday season has resulted in a few extra pounds. This observation often jumpstarts the idea that we need to start exercising.

In addition to the holiday gain, living in the COVID-19 world means many of us are staying at home and sitting down more than we usually do. It’s hard for a lot of us to do the sort of exercise we normally enjoy. It’s even harder for people who don’t usually do a lot of physical exercise to begin with.

It is widely agreed that exercise and physical activity are important as we age. Staying active can help us remain independent by preventing loss of physical mobility. Besides keeping your body healthy, research has shown that physical activity also helps the brain and may slow age-related cognitive decline.

We’ve heard it all before, but it bears repeating. The World Health Organization, and many others tell us that “regular physical activity benefits both the body and mind. It can reduce high blood pressure, help manage weight and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and various cancers - all conditions that can increase susceptibility to COVID-19.” Regular, moderate-intensity exercise has immune-boosting benefits that may help your body fight off infections and many viruses.

How can we start? Walking is a great way for older adults to exercise. Regular walking can build endurance helping each of us walk farther, faster, or even uphill with greater ease.

At The Lake Merritt, our residents are fortunate to have many wonderful walking areas in our neighborhood. The most beautiful areas are the newly renovated walking paths around the lake! Our residents Sam and Pat can be seen out walking once or twice a day. Sam said, “I walk every day because it energizes me. It makes my brain feel good.” Pat agreed adding, “ It’s the best way to exercise. I feel lousy if I miss my daily lake walk.”

The pandemic has also made it very difficult to exercise in other ways we have become accustomed to. With gyms closed, many exercise classes are unavailable. Yet, virtual fitness classes have sprung up online. These allow you to interact with other people in a fun way, which may be just the motivation we need to keep up with our fitness regime.

Our Program Director, Ryan Wilcox, has set up The Lake Merritt’s exercise program online through ZOOM. This allows residents to exercise in their own apartment, or join the group where they can exercise in a way that is socially distanced while wearing masks. I asked some of our residents why these programs are so important?

Cynthia said, “I really miss going out for my Pilates class which is not being held due to Covid. I am so grateful for our ZOOM classes because movement keeps me alive!” Robert added, “the classes for our residents make me more alert and help my whole body.” Pat and Beverly both said that daily exercise helps keep them from “getting stiff!”

Regular physical activity is essential for everyone under normal circumstances. It is especially important during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Although many things feel beyond our control right now, we do have the ability to be creative and to build physical activity and exercise into each of our days. We may even look back on this difficult time as the turning point when we learned new ways to build our physical health and resilience!



Savor the Holidays!

By Tim Johnson
December 2020

2020 has been an unpredictable year! It is widely agreed that the best thing we can do is look ahead. Yet, deep in this holiday season are treasures! We are reminded of key traditions and activities that we hold dear to our hearts. While some ways of celebrating may look a little different this year, it doesn’t mean we still can’t enjoy our favorite traditions.

It’s the little things that can get us excited about the season. For me, it is things like bundling up for chilly walks, slipping between warm flannel sheets or binge-watching every holiday movie ever made! Some of us appreciate a cool glass of eggnog and others may choose to drink delicious hot apple cider. Mulled wine, a cup of hot chocolate, and sweet baked goods are little treats we can all enjoy.

Viewing Christmas lights decorating our neighbors’ houses, lighting the candles during the eight days of Hanukkah, or enjoying the seven days of Kwanzaa that celebrate family, community and culture - all are all rich traditions we can share.

Let’s not forget the Holiday music! I’m one of those guys who have been listening to Holiday music every day since November 1st!!!

For those of you who have a custom of visiting The Lake Merritt to take a picture in front of our iconic Christmas tree, or like to enjoy an Elf Mimosa in the Terrace Room, we look forward to opening our doors again next year. In the meantime, here are a couple of pictures of our community’s 2020 décor for you to enjoy!

Remember, focusing on friendship and family and the little sensual pleasures of this time of year, and maintaining a positive attitude will help ensure a great holiday season.

Happy Holidays from all of us at The Lake Merritt.



If You Gotta Wear a Mask… Why Not Be Fashionable?

By Tim Johnson
December 2020

The other day I was chatting with Judy, one of the residents at The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Community. She was wearing a light blue mask with peaches on it. I said to her, “I don’t think I have ever seen that mask before. It’s very nice!” Her eyes lit up and she said, “It’s new. I now have six double-sided masks. That means I now have twelve different looks to select from!”

Last week another resident, Faye, walked by. She was wearing a black mask with white polka dots, a white blouse with black polka dots, a black cardigan sweater and black slacks. Her black and white earrings matched her necklace and set off the outfit perfectly - pure class. I told her so! Her response was, “A fashionable lady knows how to color coordinate!”

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) regularly updates its website with ways to help prevent COVID-19. While it has long been suggested mask-wearing primarily protects the “other person,” in the CDC’s scientific brief updated last week on November 10, 2020, the organization cites studies that demonstrate that cloth mask materials can also reduce the wearers’ exposure to infectious droplets through filtration, including filtration of fine droplets.

It’s common knowledge nobody likes or really wants to wear a mask all the time but the science is clear: Mask wearing helps save lives. Since it is likely we will be wearing masks for some time to come, why not look at some fashionable masks that show your personality. That is exactly what the staff at The Lake Merritt decided to do. As it turns out - it’s fun!

As a pet lover Stephanie was happy to find a line of masks that pay tribute to our furry friends. The fact that the paw print is made from rhinestones makes it all the better. Who doesn’t like a little bling?

Krasaundra said, “Wearing a more fashionable mask made me feel good. After the residents started complimenting me the idea became fun. It challenged me to up my game!” She has several different masks but one of her favorites is this elegant black mask trimmed with pearls.

Ryan likes his cat mask because he enjoys “just the right amount of zany on my face.” He likes things that are fun.

Why the sparkles? Ernestine wears masks that glitter and sparkle because they match her personality!

Candi is wearing an “Alice in Wonderland” mask that she designed and made herself. She saw the need for masks early on and began making them for friends and family. Residents noticed her beautiful creations and have been asking Candi to make masks for them as well.

Fashion has always had a way of taking our wardrobe essentials and turning them into statement pieces. It's no surprise then, that the protective face coverings we've been advised to wear to curb the spread of the coronavirus have quickly been embraced and beautified by the fashion world. Since you’re going to wear one anyway, why not join with the residents and staff of The Lake Merritt and consider something with a bit of pizzazz? You’ll have fun doing it!



Lake Merritt - Beneath the Surface

By Tim Johnson
November 2020

I am thrilled to announce that The Lake Merritt has secured a very coveted speaker for our Topics of Merritt program on Tuesday, November 10, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. Damon Tighe, a Naturalist at the California Center for Natural History and Biotechnology, and Educator at Bio-Rad Laboratories, will present a free Zoom program for us, which is open to all. Based in Oakland, Tighe has become acclaimed for his work documenting the spectacular marine organisms thriving beneath the surface of Lake Merritt. His dramatic underwater photographs and compelling stories reveal the history of these stunning life forms, many from around the world, who have found a home in Lake Merritt.

Did you know that Lake Merritt is not a man-made lake, but a tidal lagoon that formed 10,000 years ago in the Neolithic era? At that time, rising sea levels carried water from the Pacific Ocean inland and a tidal lagoon formed in what is now Downtown Oakland. The lagoon was connected to the bay by a large rivulet that carried a steady stream of saltwater and wildlife inland from the ocean. Fresh water from winter rains runs down our hills through many creeks and into the lake creating a mixed brackish environment suitable for many marine creatures then and now.

Over the decades, Oakland resident, Damon Tighe has kept a watchful eye on the creatures living in the lake. After getting reports over several years in a row from boaters on the lake concerning a beautiful soft blue glow around their oars at night, Tighe investigated. His research resulted in a very compelling article (“Why Is Lake Merritt Turning Blue at Night?”) for Bay Nature magazine explaining the phenomenon.

Here’s what Tighe’s research discovered: During the summer months when the creeks run dry, the salinity of our lake’s water rises to become much more like that of the Bay. Coinciding with this change in salinity, a bloom in marine organisms begins in the shallow warm waters. By late summer and early fall, the microscopic organisms responsible for the blue glow, plankton called dinoflagellates, erupt and multiply.

After reading an article about Tighe in The Oaklandside this past July, I was intrigued by some of the other discoveries Tighe has made and his process for doing so. The citizen scientist knows the lake and its environs well. He steps around picnickers, turns over rocks on the shore, and even wades through the water, his eyes alert for the smallest marine critters. To date, more than 600 species have been identified at Lake Merritt, including non-native life forms and some that are so unique that they have not been found anywhere else on Earth.

The Lake Merritt - Independent Senior Community sits directly across from the lake. I have spent many an hour walking along the lake noticing the plants and wildlife, but never imagined what was under the water! To hear more, we invited Damon Tighe to present a program for us. You’re invited to learn about what’s going on under the surface and the ever-changing ecology of our beloved Lake Merritt.