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



Hands Around Lake Merritt

by Johanna Leonard
November 2016

I am very proud of Oakland this week. On Sunday, November 13th, nearly 10,000 people from Oakland and other parts of the Bay Area came together to join hands around Lake Merritt to protest a feared increase in hate crimes associated with the recent election. This was a very impressive peaceful protest.

Residents Judy Moore and Laura Hunt with family and friendsThis project was the brainchild of Oaklander Allison White who invited people to join hands in a circle ALL the way around 3.4 miles of Lake Merritt to stand up against racism, sexism, homophobia, and Islamophobia! White explained, “This is a peaceful joining together to honor our community, the values we stand for, and our resilience as a nation.“

Thank you Allison for giving us the chance to show that Oakland can protest respectfully and peacefully!

I am also very proud that The Lake Merritt – Independent Senior Living, which is located directly across the street from the lake, was well represented by both residents and staff members. Some made signs that said “Don’t Mourn. Mobilize.” In several cases, residents and their families participated together. Our photo shows our residents Judy (Top row 2nd from the right) and Laura (Bottom row on the right) with family and friends. It was beautiful to see. One of the truly wonderful sights at this gathering was the range of ages of the participants, from babies in the arms of their parents to older adults in their 90s.

The residents at The Lake Merritt are proud to be engaged in our community, our state, and our nation. We’re showing them how it is done!!



Veterans Have Stories to Share!

by Johanna Leonard
November 2016

Today is Veterans Day, a day when we honor our military veterans who served in the United States Armed Services. Is someone in your family a veteran – a parent, auntie or grandfather? You might enjoy learning more about them if you ask some questions on Veterans Day.

As a community for older adults, you can imagine we definitely have a few veterans in our midst and I spoke to a few of them to learn more about their lives when they served our country.

One of our residents, John missed deployment to the war zones in World War II, but not by much. He did not want to join the Army. He did not want to go to war. Yet, he finished high school in 1945 and volunteered to join the Navy. Just before he arrived in boot camp the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. Six days later, the war in the Pacific was over and the Japanese surrendered, yet John’s Navy duty was just beginning. He tested well in mathematics and was accepted to train as a technician to repair aircraft radios and other equipment. He received certification as a “Radio Technician 3rd Class.” John told me that the training he received was excellent. He did very well, and was able to choose ground-based aircraft work. He trained in Corpus Christi, Texas, and was later transferred to Monterey, California. He served for 1 year and a day. After he left the Navy, his technical skills helped him get work with General Dynamics and Boeing and he built a 35-year career in the aircraft and defense industries.

Another one of our residents, Jim, volunteered for the Army, and served in the “Army of Occupation” in Heidelberg, Germany in
1954-1956. Jim was an Army Private First Class – Specialist #2, or as Jim says, he was a clerk typist. He worked for the Central Intelligence Headquarters in Europe and this office mostly handled issues in East Germany, which included defections to and from East Germany. During his service, Jim traveled about Europe. He went to Berlin, London, some areas of Italy, and parts of Scandinavia. He was glad to have volunteered. He attended college for 2 years before he joined the Army, and the Army paid for his last 2 years.

When I asked Jim to tell me a story about his service, he told me a funny story about a photo. A photograph came into their office. They thought it was a missile, but it
was not like any missile that they had ever seen. The consensus was it was a new missile perhaps built secretly by East Germany or the Soviet Union. It caused great dismay in the office until someone pointed out that it was a just part of a parade float for Fasching, which is carnival season in Germany.

Ask a veteran you know to tell you about their service this Veterans Day. Even those who stayed at home and kept a family together during wartime have stories to share. And then, thank them all for their selfless service to our country. The Lake Merritt thanks them all!



We're on KQED

by Johanna Leonard
October 2016

Are Gwen Ifell and Judy Woodruff your go-to gals at dinner time? Do you pay special attention when Jacques Pepin makes a quick sauce with butter, mushrooms and white wine? Or perhaps your family enjoys special evenings featuring Movie Classics or the American Masters Series? If so, then you're browsing on our local PBS TV channel!

If you watch KQED regularly you might see a little bit about The Lake Merritt! This fall and running through mid-December were experimenting with a sponsorship with KQED TV. It’s a pilot program and our goal is to let people throughout the nine county Bay Area, from Sonoma to Santa Clara ( which is the incredibly large geographic area covered by KQED's broadcast signal), know about our community at The Lake Merritt.

Click on our sponsorship spot. It's only 30 seconds and you’ll have a chance to view our new underwriting announcement and have a quick tour of our community. The spot showcases our location on beautiful Lake Merritt along with photos of our acclaimed landmark building and an invitation to take a tour.



Our Wellness Program features Yoga and Meditation

by Johanna Leonard
September 2016

In 2012 the Lake Merritt welcomed Bethany Hobbs who offers personalized yoga classes to our residents. Using primarily chair yoga, her classes help our residents with ways to focus on improving breath and balance, along with stretching and strengthening their bodies. Chair yoga offers practicioners a gentle mode of yoga practice and many feel is a great way to help keep both the mind and body fit and relaxed.

After the success of chair yoga, Bethany then further customized our program to address interests of the group, by adding time in each class for optional standing balance and alignment work. These movements help with posture, breath capacity, circulation and joint mobility.

Two years ago, Bethany began offering an additional class at the request of the residents. This new class was focused solely on Meditation.

“Bethany has really connected with our residents,” says Ryan Wilcox, Programming Coordinator. “Her regulars include many people who had never participated in yoga before living at The Lake Merritt. These residents were so intrigued with the meditation practice that Bethany did during yoga class that they requested another class to focus on mediation only.”

Our residents are on the right track with their interest in yoga and meditation! Researchers from UCLA completed a study recently to determine if yoga with its physical as well as meditative study could improve a person’s brain activity. The volunteers practiced yoga and meditation for 12 weeks and were then re-tested The volunteers showed a measurable improvement in Visio spatial memory (a type of remembering that is important for balance, depth perception and the ability to recognize objects and navigate the world). The study also found, more communication between parts of their brains involved in memory and language skills, and more communication between parts of the brain that control attention, suggesting a greater ability of the subjects to focus and multitask.

We spoke with one of our residents who never miss the class, and asked her why she went to Bethany Hobbs’ Meditation Class. She told us that she felt that she received both practical and mystical benefits. The mystical was personal to her, yet the practical benefit was that she was able to calm and clear her mind and concentrate on what was important to her.



What Are You Reading

by Stephanie Cox, Operations Manager
September 2016

The Lake Merritt strives to provide our residents with organized activities for every imaginable taste. From sewing circles to political discussions to bridge games, we hope to satisfy a wide range of individual preferences. This spring, we launched a book group. It’s not our first; over the years, we have offered our residents book groups that residents have managed themselves and another that was facilitated by an outside leader.

This time around, our Operations Manager Stephanie Cox is involved. The residents nominated several reading selections, and then winnowed them down by voting for their favorites. Stephanie keeps everything organized. All residents are informed about book selections and schedules. Stephanie sends out regular reminders and helps ensure that books are available for everyone. Almost any type of book is fair game; both fiction and non-fiction landed on this list this year and many biographies were nominated. Most of the participants have previous book club experience, including Stephanie, who attended the same book group in Chicago for five years.

In May the club members enjoyed reading and discussing an update of the old-fashioned murder mystery, The Girl on the Train by British author Paula Hawkins (coming soon to a theater near you, just in time for Halloween). In June, the discussion centered on Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ assessment of the current state of race relations in America. July’s selection was Blindness by Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago, another appraisal of humans and our propensity for bad behavior. The August selection was a bit of historical fiction, The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. It chronicles the lives of Japanese picture brides who arrived in San Francisco in the early 20th century and is written in a lyrical style. For September, our author is the prolific and ever popular Barbara Kingsolver. Her book is , traces a man’s epic 30-year journey from Mexico to Washington DC and back again. Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky, J. Edgar Hoover and many others play central roles in the life of the protagonist who struggles to find his authentic identity.

Under Stephanie’s coordination, the new book club is flourishing. With its lively discussions and compelling topics the club is once again a popular activity for our residents.



A Little Summer Poetry

by Johanna Leonard
July 2016

My residents and I wanted to share a wonderful poem that we discovered during our poetry discussion celebrating summer this past week.  This poem is "Consolation" by Billy Collins.  It made us all smile.


How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous
domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon's
little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.

How much better to command the simple precinct of home
than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.
Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?
Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyes camera
eager to eat the world one monument at a time?

Instead of slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice,
I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress
known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning
paper, all language barriers down,
rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way.

And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car

as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.


Bill Collins is  is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003.