WSG 32 Laura Barkan
Spring has sprung
Happy Easter! Happy Passover!
Did anyone notice I didn’t do the first Tuesday coffee at Lucie in Boston? I forgot! Please let me know if this is something we should keep doing…comment below! Just say “yes” or, “hey!” or maybe just “.”
Submit friends and family e-mails and anyone you think might enjoy my musings and interviews! Just take your little fingers and type type type right below where it says “Refer a friend” or “SUBSCRIBE”…like this…the point of growing is so I can launch the bigger concept of an on-line resource of our collective experiences that can help others who have yet to experience a thing or are in the middle of it and need advice….it’ll be fantastic, terrific…
Send me anyone you think I should interview! I love getting suggestions!
What if you had to vacate your home for points unknown two hours from now? What would you pack? Through history, or since people have had a place to call home, we have had to flee. The war in Ukraine and current environmental catastrophes are reminders that terrible stuff happens and people have to leave suddenly and may not be able to come back to their home, ever. What would you bring?
I am not a trained political pundit, nor more informed than anyone else, so I'm going to steer clear of addressing refugee-ism and global politics. But, I have wondered what the Ukrainian refugees, mostly women, men ages 18-60 are not allowed to cross the border, bring with them on their uncertain journey. I have been groping for a descriptive concept and I came across the answer in an article LINK : “Alongside the essentials came items to remind her of her personhood.” Personhood.
How do refugees maintain a sense of self beyond survival? In the above article one woman says, “I also took one of my perfumes, just the smallest one,” she said from her new residence in Berlin. “The red lipstick — I am a woman, after all. My skin care creams so I can look like a woman after all these things.”
The rules of civility. The spirit in which this woman reflects on her current situation is inspiring, and maybe a relief. Despite the war, or to spite the war, women will strive to keep it together. I have looked online for charities that provide self-care products to refugees and have not found anything beyond sanitary pads. If anyone has knowledge of a way to donate goods or funds for self care to any of the current refugees around the globe, please let me know.
I know times are a’ changing and that in the Millennial generation it is not ‘different’ for a man to be the the stay at home person and the woman to be the the main breadwinner. According to some sources this year the college applications skewed to 60 percent female. Most colleges are at best 52% female 48% male. I am not sure where the boys are.
My generation, GenX, thought we would be full time office workers and moms (if we wanted to be). In fact, we were…for a time. Many of us were that type of female who brought home the bacon, fried it up in a pan and then cleaned the pan, fed the kids and vacuumed the hall (for those who don’t get the reference, there was an ad in the 70s for a perfume called Enjoli LINK here is the ad…it’s just mind blowing we have come as far as we have given where we were 45 years ago ). Eventually, however, many GenX women shifted to a more “traditional” role in their households. Perhaps we were more advanced than our mothers but after a kid or two, or a glass ceiling, it seems many women my age who could, retreated and cared for their kinder, at least part time.
The good news about GenX motherhood is that society gets some seriously high functioning executives with some time on their hands and they do what Laura Barkan, Maven of the Week, has done for many years: volunteered (worked for free). The many of us are grateful to the few, like Laura, who head our parent associations at school and fundraise, work for charities and start new businesses. A person, male or female, cannot work full time and volunteer full time. Just ask Laura…I think she tried! Please welcome, Laura Barkan!
Maven of the Week! Laura Barkan!
I became familiar with Laura’s latest project, The Uncommonwealth (link), through my instagram account. She posts a daily point of interest @the_uncommonwealth - historical notes, happenings and unique insights about the Boston area. It’s fun! But, there is a LOT more to the idea. Laura, tell me about The Uncommonwealth.
Have you ever visited a new place you were excited about, yet felt like it’s a mystery to you? That the heart and soul of your destination was something you just couldn’t quite access? I’ve had those experiences and it’s frustrating. So I set out to help visitors (and locals!) experience Boston in a deeply personal and exciting new way. The Uncommonwealth is a destination management service that connects sophisticated travelers to exceptionally curated Boston experiences. We help people go beyond the typical museum, to meet and learn from the authentic experts, to experience chefs that will be famous next year, to travel down out-of-the-way cobblestone paths that tell a rich history of the city—to see Boston like an insider, I like to say.
I love the story of how The Uncommonwealth came to be. Please share your path to starting your new venture.
Soon after I graduated from college, my Dad was dismayed to learn that I had quit my first corporate job and was moving to Maui with my very new boyfriend (who is now my husband). He asked, “what about your career?” And I said something like “what if my life is about a bunch of exciting experiences, not about climbing the corporate ladder?” Not what he wanted to hear, that’s for sure. At 51, I can now say that I have had lots of corporate jobs, and while occasionally exciting, none filled my soul in addition to my pocket.
In 2020, my husband and I became empty nesters (a term I hate, BTW - let’s rebrand that, shall we??). Gone were the endless carpools, parent events, running the Parents’ Association, school trustee work, cooking huge meals for growing boys, and generally pinch hitting for whatever daily crisis that could be happening. The idea of staying home without much to do filled me with anxiety, so I considered revving up my old consulting career … but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I started researching. I wanted to do something creative for the first time, and I wanted it to be about connecting people and to help people learn (I love that twinkle people get in their eyes when they get excited about something new they’ve learned.) I remembered that some of our most special family experiences were traveling to a new place and meeting locals who shared their stories and insights. In Croatia, for example, we spent a day with a family who owned an olive grove, where we learned about how they are farmed, how they made olive oil, and we had a long and wonderful al fresco meal with them. There is nothing like getting to know locals to really give you a sense of a culture and their home.
So while I have never worked in travel, I bounced the idea off my friends who do, and got wonderful advice. (Thank you Julie Hayes of Ramble & Vine!) There is no one doing what I’m doing focused only on Boston. It’s hyperlocal. And my goal is to help people get off the Freedom Trail and go deeper - see and learn about some of our other neighborhoods (like the South End, Roxbury, JP, Charlestown, etc), go into some historic private homes you wouldn’t otherwise be able to access, cook with the likes of Ken Oringer or some of our other top chefs, meet some local artists in their studios, make graffiti with a street artist, sit in the owner’s seats at Fenway and meet Wally - the list goes on and on! It’s so much fun. And there is nothing better than getting great feedback from clients who have had a wonderful family experience and who now love Boston the way I do!
You're up for the Myra Kraft Community MVP Award for your work at Christopher’s Haven. Please tell me about the organization and why you chose to dedicate your time to them and their mission.
Christopher’s Haven is a truly special home for families of children who are in Boston for treatment for cancer. It offers a convenient place to stay during an excruciating time but also provides a community where families can be together, be comforted, and comfort others. My son Jacob and I started by cooking meals and bringing them to families there - Jacob would play with the kids while I served the meal and visited with parents. We loved helping in such a personal way. During the pandemic, they had to cancel their annual fundraiser, so I decided to do a Calendar Club challenge (a Jesse Itzler concept) to fundraise for them. Every day of April 2020, I ran or walked the number of miles corresponding with the date. April 5=5 miles. April 20=20 miles. Holy moly that was hard and I eventually had to switch to KM as shin splints kicked in, but I covered over 368 miles in a month and with the support of friends and family raised funds! Last year, still suffering from the pandemic, I put their annual auction online for the first time and we did 4-5 times the revenue as a result. I love Christopher’s Haven, it really feels like a home for the families staying there and has felt very special as a place to help.
NOTE: Please consider donating to Christopher’s Haven. I will match contributions up to $1,000.00 Please let me know if you donate. Here is a link
You worked in the management consulting and finance in a number of ways for the first 20 years of your career. After your second child you dialed back your workload, sort of, and went to work in corporate governance where you ran two networks of Fortune 50 audit committee chairs for Ernst & Young. You traveled all over the world during the financial crisis with these board members to help them learn how to improve their governance. You mentioned that when your boys reached middle school you got out of that male dominated world altogether. After so much time, more than many of us can muster with kids, why get out?
It was just flying by all too quickly. My work was intellectually challenging and interesting but not my passion. I was always that Mom at the bus stop in heels and a suit and I wanted to slow down and get involved at school before it was too late. And I did! I ended up becoming President of the Parents’ Association, which was almost a full time job, and I was on the board of trustees for a couple of years. I loved the community aspect of that work.
Please share your thoughts on women in a male dominated work force and can women balance it all?
I did some diversity, equity and inclusion consulting in the early 2000’s. One thing that stunned me then was that many women who had made it at the top seemed to have zero patience for helping the younger generation of women. Those women had sacrificed so much to make it, they expected younger women to do the same, and thought their demands for a better balance was bratty and entitled. I understood it, but clearly the old way of doing things was preventing most women from staying and succeeding. So it really needed to change. Today there are still only 15% of Fortune 500 companies that are women, and the pandemic crushed many working moms with young children, so there’s still a lot of work to do.
Back to your question. I think the idea of “balance” is an unfair expectation. Life and work comes in waves of intensity so I think you just have to set your own limits and remain firm. I remember when I was supposed to be working a 60% schedule (my boys were young) and asking my boss if I’d get a bonus for all of the additional hours I was working. He looked at me like I was nuts - “if it takes you that long to get all the work done, that’s your issue.” So I adjusted my hours and pushed back on what work I was going to do. We women can get too emotional about all of this. It’s really just a calculation, in a way.
What do you think our daughters can expect?
I don’t think I can predict. I’m also glad to no longer be in corporate America - but I’m very grateful for all the lessons it taught me. If I had daughters, I’d simply say to them - give it a go, work hard, have good ethics, ask for advice and what you want, and understand that the people at the top usually got there through staying power - nothing super special - so you can do it too if you want. As my grandmother said, we all put our pants on one leg at a time.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I had no idea!!
What are you excited about now?
The freedom that comes with emerging out of a global pandemic! Like it or not, we have all had to look deep into ourselves during the past two years and be there for one another, think about what matters most, and build our levels of resilience. Being with friends and family again, traveling, exploring freely feels like the luxury we always knew it was, but often took for granted.
What books are on your bedside table?
I am a big non-fiction nerd. Some of my favorite books in recent years were “Bad Blood” about Elizabet Holmes and “Red Notice” by Bill Browder. On my bedside is his new book “Freezing Order” about Putin that just arrived.
What do you do to relax?
Dinner and drinks with girlfriends! And yoga to detox.
What category/subject would you add to the Guide?
A little self-serving but perhaps readers favorite things about Boston??
A Recipe You Won’t Hate! Crunchy Shrimp with Toasted Couscous and Ginger-Orange Sauce
By Karen Tedesco, Webster Groves, Missouri
Recipe by Cooking Light January 2006
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 ½ tablespoons fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
1 cup uncooked couscous
1 ½ cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
½ cup orange juice
½ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
20 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 3/4 pound)
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
½ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
½ teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups trimmed watercress
To prepare sauce, bring 1 cup orange juice to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until reduced to 1/4 cup (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat; cool completely. Stir in 1 tablespoon cilantro and next 7 ingredients (through red pepper); set aside.
To prepare couscous, place couscous in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; cook 3 minutes or until toasted, stirring constantly. Add 1 1/2 cups broth, 1/2 cup orange juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork; add onions, almonds, and butter, stirring until butter melts. Keep warm.
To prepare shrimp, combine shrimp and egg white in a large bowl, tossing to coat. Combine the panko, 1 teaspoon cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, and black pepper in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add shrimp to the bag, and seal and shake to coat.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; arrange shrimp in a single layer in pan. Cook 2 minutes on each side or until done.
Place 3/4 cup couscous on each of 4 plates; top each with 1/2 cup watercress and 5 shrimp. Drizzle each with 1 1/2 tablespoons sauce.
Let’s remember that things are getting pretty dicey out there for everyone. Our kids and parents and friends may need extra love and support. If it isn’t the economy scaring us it’s the Russians or covid…I think we have been here before? Happy Passover and Easter and good luck to the runners in Boston this weekend!!.
I would love to gather again for coffee- the last one could have gone in for several more hours and it still feels novel to be able to gather in person. Loved the profile of Laura Barkan- her Instagram helps me remember to keep exploring Boston…. There is no better city to be in as spring arrives- the trees along the Esplanade exploding w blossoms and the streets and parks full of energy.
I am going to try and make an effort to visit more of the Historic New England registered sites. The Sleeper McCann house is tops on my list when it opens for the season.. Everyone raves about it.
Topics: This is a tough one. Why has homelessness become such a challenge in certain cities? I understand the issue of mental illness, drug abuse, alcoholism, lack of support systems that lead to homelessness but how do city and state officials best handle the problem? I would be really interested in hearing about what I or anybody could do to help?