Your BBF (Best Friend Forever)

by Johanna Leonard
October 2017

They can help lower your blood pressure, they can help relieve stress and build social ties in your community. They can even give you a feeling of well-being and affection. Who are we talking about? Your BFF (Best Friend Forever)! It’s your companion animal! And in this case, it’s a dog.

The Lake Merritt is a pet friendly community and we believe in the healing power of companion pets for older adults. There have been many studies on this phenomena, and claims promoting the benefits of companion animals are many. Let us introduce a few of the canine friends we have come to know here at The Lake Merritt.

Here’s a snapshot of K.C., who is an adorable brown and white King Charles spaniel. His day starts out pretty early. He takes his owner for a walk outside and they both often admire the view of Lake Merritt.  On his way back, he stops by the Concierge desk for a special treat (he actually gets his treat twice per day). As he walks away, K.C. thanks the Concierge with a smile and a wagging tail. He has the most handsome brown eyes you have ever seen! K.C. cannot walk down a hallway without a resident (or staff member) stopping to pet and coo at him. Some of our residents even volunteer to walk K.C. in the afternoon. K.C. is one lucky pooch.

Then there are Rubia, Hudson and Harry. John, one of our newer residents, has a small blond-colored Chihuahua mix. named Rubia. He told me the other day that he feels that he is the side-kick, like Robin to Rubia's Batman. Hudson is Pam’s apricot-colored labradoodle, (a labrador retriever and poodle combination). He’s a young dog, still learning his way around, and he loves people. We all join together to reward his good behavior with treats and pets. Another resident Peter, walks his schnoodle Harry, (a schnauzer and poodle mix), several times a day. Peter says that Harry is great at making friends. The two have met numerous neighbors during their dog walks. In fact, Peter and Harry sometimes coordinate walk times with a neighbor who lives nearby. I often see them walking their dogs together many times a week and chatting and laughing it up.

Of course, we have a lot of purr-fectly pretty kitties in our community as well, and we don’t want to neglect their fluffy or sleek beauty and their importance to our residents. Yet there is one big extra benefit for our residents who live with dogs we can’t neglect.

As all of us strive to stay fit, and as we read seemingly every day about studies telling us that walking is the best exercise for older adults, it’s easy to see another benefit to canine companions. They get us out of our homes. So, I like to remind all the dog owners out there, and in our community too, that your dog probably would love a walk right now and you would love it too!




Our Residents Get Engaged with a Start-Up

by Johanna Leonard
September 2017

The history of start-ups in the Bay Area is awesome. Just think of all of the high-profile companies that simply didn’t exist a few decades ago. Many got their start right here in this area. It seems to me that everything is undergoing innovation. Even our business!

Our management team and residents volunteered to be part of a “beta test” of a new service organization that provides a unique kind of care to older adults. Founded by an Oakland resident and a former AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) executive, Jenny Gallagher, her new company “Help-Full” just finished being put through its paces at our community.

The Lake Merritt’s management helped by testing the company’s website for ease of use by older adults, we consulted on the design of forms, and provided feedback on our members’ overall assessment after using Help-Full. The company matches older adults with “Helpers,” based on compatible backgrounds, interests, preferences and traits. About 80% of Helpers are college and graduate students. They assist with simple non-medical and non-personal care* tasks around the house or on the go, as well as provide companionship and engage with our residents in mutually enjoyable activities like going to music performances and playing ping pong.

Our residents responded to the “beta test” individually. I know from their feedback that they were absolutely thrilled with the Help-Full providers’ personal service. As I write this, I see there is a Help-Full representative at the front desk who is here to help a resident with organizational tasks in her home. The company is insured and each Helper has gone through an interview, a background check and has up-to-date auto insurance coverage.

The company’s inspiration is something many can relate to. A few years ago, Jenny was living in Washington, DC and her mother lived in California. As her mother aged, she began to need more and more help. Although she had paid caregivers, her mother once said to Jenny over the phone “I’ve never felt so lonely surrounded by so many people.” Jenny felt helpless living so far away. Her sister, who lived closest to their mother, was beyond stressed. Jenny realized there are millions of other families who have it much worse off and need help. So, she moved back to California and started Help-Full.

There is a need for the company’s companionship and task-driven services. Now that beta testing is complete, Help-Full is getting ready to launch! We wish Help-Full good luck in their growth.

*Note – Help-Full is not a home-care agency and does not provide services related to ADL (Activities of Daily Living), which include eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, and others.



Our Chef Shares Secrets of His Flavors (and it’s not more Butter!)

by Johanna Leonard
July 2017

Most of us know that when we go out for dinner, or watch the cooking shows on TV, that some of the flavors we love are enhanced by the addition of extra pads of butter. Sometimes more pinches of salt than you can imagine are added to the dish! Yet, everyday we hear the warnings about high and low cholesterol, the hazards of salt on our cardiovascular system, and of course the cautions about that dreaded substance hidden in almost everything – white sugar! How are older adults to manage their health as we are told to cut back on those things we love: butter, salt and sugar?

This is exactly my question for The Terrace Room Executive Chef, Jack Andrews. He works everyday to create delicious and nutritious meals for our residents at The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living.

I found that Chef Jack, who began his career in the kitchen cooking for his family, has the experience and curiosity to address this question. His background helps. He traveled extensively in the Navy as a young man, and these journeys and the tastes he found around the world reinforced his love of the culinary arts. He has worked in kitchens in California, New York, New Jersey and Arizona. In the Bay Area he has gained expertise at Restaurant Lulu, Blue Plate, Mayfield Cafe, Franny’s, Arturos and Square SF. Most recently he was Regional Executive Chef for Guckenheimer.

So, how does Jack make foods taste great and yet put healthy meals for our residents on the table? He tells me that as a young chef he was “obsessed with old school French recipes.” He continued, “Now, that I am in my 40s, my own health and making healthy choices have emerged as a priority for me and others. As such, my cooking has changed. I’ve learned to achieve the same flavor profile of many dishes through other means,” Jack explained.

“For example, I love to think about a dish as a finished product and imagine the different ways to get the same result,” the chef said. “Take for instance the French classic ‘Vichy Carrots.’ The end goal is to have sweet carrots with that memorable salt, butter, and umami flavor. So, rather than adding salt, butter or cream, I boost the flavor of the carrots by reinforcing carrots in carrot juice. To reduce the salt and add umami flavor, we can add Kombu seaweed. And instead of butter, I would use a nice light and fruity Sicilian olive oil. Here at The Terrace Room, I enjoy taking dishes from the residents’ past and reinventing them in a lighter, healthier way. It is a challenge, but a challenge that I enjoy! It keeps things fresh for me,” Jack explained.

The Terrace Room is open to the public and is acclaimed for its New American cuisine prepared with seasonal, often locally sourced, sustainable, organic ingredients. All of our residents have their meals in The Terrace Room along with our public customers. With its very popular Sunday brunch and imaginative lunch and dinner menus, patrons can experience Chef Jack’s fresh approaches to classic recipes everyday.



Parades and Celebrations At Our Front Door

by Johanna Leonard
July 2017

On June 15th, The Lake Merritt was once again the center of the universe! We have been spoiled this year. In January, 100,000 people participated in the Women’s March which passed right in front of our community to the applause and cheers of our residents. Now the second Golden State Warriors’ Victory Parade has passed right in front of The Lake Merritt with approximately 1.5 million happy fans witnessing their heroes! Believe me, our residents were first to see the team come down the street as they watched from the floor-to-ceiling windows of our restaurant, The Terrace Room, along with fans who came to join us for the festivities.

The parade route was the same as in 2015, except for some minor changes due to road construction along Lakeside Drive. The parade started at 10am at City Hall in the heart of Downtown Oakland, right at 12th and Broadway, and concluded with a rally near Lake Merritt’s new West end plaza and the Kaiser Convention Center.

Many of our residents enjoyed taking photos and videos out of the windows of the restaurant and many were able to view the parade from their own apartment homes. I heard that many of them wanted to send the photos and videos to their families in “real-time.” As so many of our community members have lake views, they had what they like to call the “best seats in the house!” At one point during the parade, I looked up at our building and saw at least one head peeping out of each window in the front, including the windows in our hallways. A few of the residents were also camped out on the fire escape.

I feel that the Warriors enjoyed this celebration more than the first one. Both Steph Curry and Draymond Green got out of their double-decker open-topped buses and walked along the route to greet their fans.

Although it seems impossible, this year’s Warriors’ celebration was even more fantastic than in 2015! We were lucky to have Steph Curry, who many feel is the greatest shooter in NBA history, walking and dancing right in front of our community with the Championship trophy!

We are ready for next year! And hey, Oakland A’s, we are now experts on how to have parade party, so you know.…….Bring It On!



Our Walk Score is 95% - “A Walker’s Paradise!”

by Johanna Leonard
June 2017

Ask the residents at The Lake Merritt, and they’ll agree that our location, with the lake directly across the street, is simply wonderful. Our building is situated in the heart of Oakland’s “Gold Coast,” the district that hugs the lake and is notable for its views, gardens and stunning period and modern architecture.

Now we have a big-time confirmation of our unique location! The National Walk Score (NWS), an organization that ranks the most walkable cities and neighborhoods in the United States, Canada, and Australia, has deemed our location as “a walker’s paradise.” The Lake Merritt area has been awarded a walk score of 95 out of 100 possible points. Plus, the NWS has hailed Oakland as “one of the best places to walk in the nation.”

Many of our residents are active walkers and the beneficiaries of the City of Oakland’s recent $198 million investment in the restoration of Lake Merritt. With the support of Oakland voters and Measure DD funding, the entire urban lakeside, encompassing 155 acres, has been reinvigorated. Among the benefits for everyone are new pathways, a beautiful pedestrian bridge over the tidal estuary, and a shoreline that has been restored.

I’ve learned that one of the most underrated activities that older adults can do to benefit their health is walking for exercise and enjoyment. Our country’s National Institute of Health tells us that we can do a lot for our health by simply walking. They state that “most inactive people get fewer than 5,000 steps a day, and some very inactive people get only 2,000 steps a day.”

Dr. Andrew Weil, who has gained recognition for his pro-active approach to health and wellness recommends a walking program for health. “Putting in 45 brisk minutes a day is quite simply the best practice I can imagine for a lifetime of health,” Weil said. “If you begin a daily walking program today, you can expect to enjoy longer life, lower weight and a better brain.”

It’s time for a walk! Now that Spring has sprung, I’m putting on my new walking shoes and heading out. Care to join me?



A Smashing Good Time

by Johanna Leonard
May 2017

Look closely at this photo. What is a green dish pan doing on the ping pong table? This innocent little green pan holds a stash of over 100 ping-pong balls and these balls are used by our volunteer coach who is helping our residents in a smashing way!

Let me introduce Suxian Zeng, who has been a professional ping pong coach, and whose dish pan is full of ping pong balls! A teacher of competitive players in China, including to a Junior World Champion, Suxian, who goes by Sue, is part of a classic “win-win” at The Lake Merritt.

A member of an ESL (English as a Second Language) class at Laney College with her daughter Angel Liang-Sin, the two joined an enrichment program that The Lake Merritt and Laney College created a few years ago called “Conversation Exchange,” which meets every Friday. Laney’s ESL students come to The Lake Merritt to meet with our residents and then they converse together to improve their English skills. The students are divided into groups and paired with residents to discuss different topics each week. Check out the video on this innovative program here.

When Sue saw that The Lake Merritt acquired a ping pong table in February she volunteered to help the residents develop their skills. Since then, she has coached them on their forehands, backhands and their form.

Resident Betty, who used to have her own ping-pong table explained, "Sue is terrific, and she has taught us a lot. We have improved...I'm actually better than I ever was!" Judy, another resident said, “It makes us young again -- we move. It's like dancing. It just feels really good." Resident John, pictured here, loves to play and is working vigorously on his forehand.

Coach Sue actually wrote an essay about teaching ping pong at The Lake Merritt for her ESL class. She said that the residents she coaches hit 200 to 400 balls each day they practice with her. She concluded that she really enjoys their smiling faces when they play and explained how good it makes her feel to coach them.

I’ve learned there are innumerable health benefits to playing ping pong. By playing together our residents are thinking, planning and reacting, all at once! Benefits can range from improved hand-eye coordination, better reflexes and balance, and ping pong is certainly easy on the joints. Studies have shown that ping pong may help keep the brain sharp through improved cognitive awareness and the aerobic exercise from the physical activity is stimulating.

We extend our thanks and appreciation to Coach Sue and her daughter Angel! It is great to see the coach and her players are having fun and learning together!



The Magical Mystery Tours

by Johanna Leonard
February 2017

If the theme song of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” comes over the speakers as the van heads out, you can bet that you are about to have an adventure with Ryan Wilcox, Program Director for The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living.

With enthusiasm and strategic planning, he has concocted fun and memorable adventures for those living in our adult community. The Mystery Tours are designed to be playful, surprising and full of wonder about Oakland and its people. Ryan plans the tours, and they are first-come, first-served. The trip itinerary is not known to those residents that enter our 12-seated bus as it heads out for adventure.

In some ways, The Lake Merritt’s Mystery Tour is a little like the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour in the 60s. The Beatles used a bus to go on a tour of special sites in the West Country of England in 1967 to promote their album. Yet, unlike the Beatles who were the subject of a BBC1 movie about their tour, the residents at The Lake Merritt do not have a camera crew following them around, nor are there musical performances by the Fab Four at notable English locales.

“Our tours are not of the snoozy educational variety,” Ryan laughed. “If you sign up, we don’t tell you where the trip is going. This approach allows me to be really creative. Adventure might be a little hard to come by as we age, or if one is physically limited, or can’t drive anymore. Thus, each tour is carefully planned in advance and designed to be memorable, fun and doable for everyone.”

“Our first Oakland Mystery Tour was in 2015,” Ryan said. “Basically I wanted to do something that was really fun; to have someone ‘Take you away!”

Some of the early tours Ryan created took the form of a scavenger hunt. A series of clues were planted in advance and some were in riddle form. “We would deduce a location, go there and have an activity, find the clue and then drive on to the next stop,” Ryan explained. “At one stop, we solved the riddle and ‘discovered’ all the elements for a spectacular picnic. Our next clue took us to our ultimate destination, a place that was entirely new to everyone on the bus. It was a breath-taking location in Anthony Chabot Regional Park, featuring an unforgettable view. We set up a picnic, and a number of the residents took a short nature walk.”

“Another Mystery Tour took us on a trip to discover Oakland’s urban murals. We focused on downtown murals and we learned a little about each one, taking time to appreciate these often-overlooked features of our cityscape. It was great to see so much colorful and compelling commissioned urban art right here in our town – we treated it like a gallery opening.”

“Another tour culminated in a performance by young students of the Prescott Circus. On our way to see them in West Oakland, we stopped to play cornhole for prizes along Lake Merritt, another friend dressed in a purple and green Muppet-like costume, hopped out of the Grand Lake Theater and onto our bus to deliver us a pizza. We were also given a personalized live radio “shout-out” on our drive.”

Ryan is so imaginative with his Mystery Tours. He has introduced our residents to parts of the city they’ve never seen, introduced them to performers and artists and provided some exceptional tasty treats.

“As we age, life can get predictable, but there’s plenty of wonder to be had if we’re willing to look for it,” Ryan says. “It doesn’t need to be complicated. Anyone can create a Magical Mystery Tour.”



We Are Standing on Your Shoulders

by Johanna Leonard
January 2017

On Saturday, January 21, Oaklanders took to the streets to show support for women’s issues in solidarity with the national Women’s March in Washington DC. As you know, Oakland was not the only city participating; there were 600 post-inauguration “sister” marches in this country and across the globe. Over 100,000 people marched in Oakland, and they paraded right past The Lake Merritt.

Our residents actively demonstrated along with their fellow Oaklanders. Earlier in the week, they prepared posters for the march. On the day of the march, Saturday, a number of our residents walked along the entire 40 block route! We also set up a long table and chairs in front of our community and provided coffee and muffins so other residents could watch the march go by. Members of the community held up their freshly-made posters and blew their kazoos in solidarity. Some of our residents sat next to the huge lakeside view windows of our restaurant, The Terrace Room, to watch their fellow residents and the massive crowds.

It was so much fun to see many friends and families pass by. It felt like a big party. Our group was incredibly popular. Many protestors took pictures of our residents and their signs and thanked them for participating. We heard, “We are standing upon your shoulders,” as well as “You rock!” and “Thank you for being here.”  

The March took over two hours to pass The Lake Merritt. We cheered the beginning of the March at about 11:15am and encouraged the stragglers as they went by at about 1:30pm. Our residents were so energized! They had a great time and they are ready for the next protest!!!



Ringing in the New Year

by Johanna Leonard
January 2017

Happy New Year! We hope that you and your family and friends brought in the New Year in style, because we definitely did at The Lake Merritt!

It was a celebration that included a great menu from our full-service restaurant, The Terrace Room. Our talented chefs, wait staff and bartenders worked together to provide a memorable special event for our residents as we closed our restaurant to the public for the night.

This year, our residents’ New Year’s Eve party began with cocktails. Some enjoyed a Gimlet, scotch, champagne, as
well as margaritas and others appreciated non-alcoholic specialties. After this warming bit of cheer, we made our way to the dining room to enjoy the gourmet meal that Chef Jack prepared for us. The delicious menu selections made it difficult to choose! The starter course included choices of a salad with Winter Citrus, Oyster Stew or Grilled Wild Mushrooms; the entrée featured Roasted Sonoma Chicken Breast, Line-Caught Swordfish or Herb-Crusted Sirloin Steak, and dessert was Bananas Foster, Rum Raisin Bread Pudding or a Trio of Sorbets. From what I heard from the residents, it was impossible to have made a bad choice. Everyone raved about the meal.

At the evening’s end, we all raised our champagne glasses to toast in the New Year. We made certain to let everyone know that in 2016 we gained an extra second, called a leap second, to bring atomic and astronomical time in sync. We thought about it and then it was gone. Unfortunately, we did not put that leap second to any great use.

We began our holiday season the Sunday after Thanksgiving with our Annual Holiday Party for our residents and guests, and we closed it with our New Year’s Eve Party. The holiday season was book-ended with delicious and fun-filled celebrations, which is as it should be.

Here’s a toast with our best wishes for a happy and healthy 2017.



Party People

by Johanna Leonard
December 2016

The Lake Merritt started off the holiday season with a sparkling celebration of our family and friends! On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, The Lake Merritt hosted our 5th Annual Holiday Party. We closed the Terrace Room restaurant to the general public and invited close to 200 people to dinner and drinks. It is our THANK YOU to our residents and their families for choosing us, and an appreciation of our staff for all they contribute to make The Lake Merritt such a close knit community.

This was, once again, a great time! It is so wonderful to see our residents and their families get to know each other. These parties are often the beginning of strong connections between our residents’ families due to their shared experiences. Being able to talk about life experiences often helps to build relationships and often mitigates the stress associated with “the holidays.”

Many of the attendees had fun in our photo booth. The photo booth has become an integral part of our holiday party. We think it offers a great opportunity for our residents to be silly with their families, and the light-hearted photos, complete with zany hats, masks and other props, help create great memories for both the families and our residents. Copies of select photos are made on the spot and all of the images are available on-line for the participants to check out or duplicate in the following days. I dare you to NOT smile when you are looking at any of these photos.

We top off the holiday season with another big bash on New Year's Eve! This party is a private gathering for residents and their guests. Our Chef prepares a four-course meal worthy of any fine dining establishment in the Bay Area, as all party-goers conclude dinner by lifting their glasses for a group champagne toast that rings in the New Year!

* Photo 1 - Violet and her family
* Photo 2 - Judy and her family
* Photo 3 - Talyor and her family and friends
* Photo 4 - Executive Director Johanna Leonard and family