Use What You’ve Got & Other Business Lessons I Learned From My Mom by Barbara Corcoran

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Penguin Group, 242 pages.

We all want to believe in a magic trick that will make us successful and wealthy beyond our wildest dreams.

Barbara Corcoran will have us believe the simple childhood lessons she learned from her mother propelled her to real estate stardom in the Big Apple, gave her the confidence to take-on and win a battle with Donald Trump before he became president and ultimately, made her a multi-millionaire.

Whether mom was that instrumental or not, Use What You’ve Got: & Other Business Lessons I Learned from my Mom is a great read.

How Shark Tank angel-investor made her money

Barbara Corcoran is an investor on the ABC TV program Shark Tank and the founder of The Corcoran Group real estate firm in New York. Realtor to the stars (she’s found homes for Brittney Spears among others), the firm generates over 2 $billion in annual revenue.

Ghost written by journalist Bruce Littlefield, the book starts in the early 70s in Edgewater, New Jersey. Corcoran is a 21 year-old diner waitress when her destiny walks through the door. A handsome man plunks himself at her counter. She falls for him, moves to New York, and he loans her $1,000 to start a real estate company.  He subsequently leaves Corcoran and from the ashes of her half of the business, launches The Corcoran Group real estate company, which she sold for $ 70 million in 2001.  Corcoran remains chairman.

The book is written more as a motivational manual than an autobiography, but we learn about her childhood, family, career, and ultimately, what makes her tick;  not money, status, or power; but pride, hard work, and fear of being wrong. Corcoran goes to great lengths to tell us she’s ordinary.  A ‘C’ student who never went beyond high school, Corcoran grew up poor in a Catholic family with 9 other siblings who shared one floor in a house.

How Corcoran beat Donald Trump in the real estate game

Each chapter is titled after the lesson gleaned from mom (there are 24).  Some are mysterious like Chapter twelve’s, When the clubhouse is quiet, they’re probably not making spaghetti. Each chapter begins with a situation Corcoran finds herself in on the road to success and then flashes back to her childhood and a particular lesson learned. Each chapter ends with how she applied that childhood lesson to a very adult situation.

For example, in Mom’s Lesson #22: You’ve got to bully a bully, The Corcoran Group brokered the sale of Donald Trump’s Plaza Hotel for $90 million in 1994. Trump subsequently tried to back out of $2 million in sales commission. Torn between using an in-house attorney or a litigation specialist, Corcoran flashes back to her childhood. A boy is bullying Corcoran’s younger brother, who’s afraid to play outside. Corcoran’s mother gets on the phone and calls the mother of the brawny boy next door and together the two boys confront the neighbourhood bully.

Corcoran writes: “That day, Brendan Higgins whipped Joey Bunt’s butt and Joey never bothered my brother Tommy again.” Corcoran then brings the reader back to the present where she hires the meanest lawyer she can find. Corcoran ends the chapter with, “We were paid our rightful commission because we spent the money to hire the right attorney. Despite my efforts to convince The Donald to settle our differences outside the courtroom, in the end we had to hire a bully beater so the bully didn’t win.”

If you don’t have big breasts, put ribbons on your pigtails

Other words of wisdom range from common sense to cutthroat:  Mom’s Lesson # 11: Go play outside’ (the best business ideas take place outside the office) and Mom’s Lesson # 16: Sweep the corners and the whole house stays clean (clean out the bottom 25 percent of nonproductive employees).

Corcoran has come up with an original hook to distinguish herself from the mounds of motivational books out there. The result is an enjoyable and easy read. The last point is an important one for Corcoran who says she’s dyslexic. This same book has been republished under the attention grabbing title, If you don’t have big breasts, put ribbons on your pigtails.

From someone re-entering the work force after a prolonged absence, to simply being in a rut, this book will make you believe in luck and hard work. As for the spaghetti clubhouse lesson, you’ll have to read the book to understand.

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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Three-hundred-and-thirty-seven pages. Published by Simon and Schuster in North America.

By the end of the read, I wanted to name the book, A Man Called Love instead of Ove. Because, love and acceptance, although rather begrudgingly, is what this book is all about.

amancalledove_pb_900Backman takes a classic, cranky-next-door-neighbour tale and spins it into a humorous story of acceptance, burying the hatchet and finding new friendships in unlikely places.

I simply couldn’t put it down. If you enjoyed another Swedish book, The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson, you will positively relish this novel. The convoluted writing style of Ove is peculiar yet easy to read. In his end notes, Backman thanks his editor for making numerous grammatical corrections and suggestions, and for letting Backman ignore them all.

Ove is the curmudgeon next-door, old beyond his years. Life has not been kind to him and he’s bitter because of the hand he’s been dealt. Ove unexpectedly meets the young new neighbours in his townhouse complex when one of them runs over his mailbox while backing-up a U-Haul. Not the best start to a new friendship but it’s the beginning of the blossoming of Ove.

I chose the word blossoming because Ove keeps a sharp eye on the complex for non-approved greenery and flowers residents might plant. But sometimes flowers show up in unexpected places. For Ove, there are rules and they must be obeyed. Playing by the rules is the only thing Ove knows how to do but his neighbours and their trials and exploits force Ove to look beyond the black and white that has been his life.

I won’t spoil the novel with a synopsis of events but they are at times surprising, expected and always serve as an explanation of how Ove got to be the way he is.

A Man Called Ove is a quick and easy read that will lift your spirits and help you see the best in everyone.

Be a star at the Warner Bros. studio tour in Hollywood

Visiting a Hollywood studio has been on my bucket list since I was a child. Now that I’ve done it – it was everything I had hoped it would be.

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Warner Bros. Studio sound-stage

My husband and I along with our teenage son had a blast. This attraction is a top-ten LA must-see.
Located in Burbank, north of LA, it’s hard to get to without a car. We arrived as part of a day-long tour of LA and were dropped off for a couple of hours.
The tour starts with a video presentation and then you board a trolley driven by a guide through the Warner Bros. back-lot.

Along the way, you get off the trolley and walk around the open-air sets designed to look like city streets. There are more brief video presentations along the way. You’re also left to tour some departments on your own.

A highlight for our family was visiting the Ellen set. The sound-stage is enormous and her set, as seen on TV, occupies a small part of the building. You can’t take photos of active sets.

Harry Potter

We also walked around the props building (West Wing Oval Office furniture), costume museum (Harry Potter and DC Comics movies). There’s also an any-town USA street. The cottages are fronts for various production offices.

Friends TV Show

Another highlight was taking photos on the set of the Central Perk Café from the Friends sitcom on Stage 48. Stage 48 is a self-guided tour of the movie process from script and filming to post-production. You can feel like a star and hold a real Academy Award, presented to Warner Bros. for a “best picture” win in the 1930s.

My husband and son enjoyed the Batman-cars garage.


The movie La La Land was filmed on the lot and my husband and I got a kick out of picking out the movie locations. Parts of Jurassic Park (original) were filmed here too (the rainforest close-ups). Yes, there’s a cultivated rainforest on the lot!

Tickets cost about $60 for ages 13 and up. It’s worth the money. Allow three-hours for the tour. The guides are mostly film students and you guessed it, they want to work in the movie business when they graduate. In LA, everyone we met at their workplace said they really wanted to be a ‘producer’ or ‘director’ and that this was just their ‘day job’. It’s a cliché but true. Welcome to LA.

The southern beaches of LA County

If I asked you to name one beach in the LA area you’d probably reply, Santa Monica or Malibu. I bet you’ve never heard of Manhattan Beach or Hermosa and Redondo beaches. The three beach cities of southern Los Angeles County are easy day-trips from LA. They all have that envious mellow beach-vibe that is the quintessential California of our day dreams.

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Image from Google Maps

The beaches are located in the southern end of Santa Monica Bay and stretch several miles to the northern side of the Palos Verde Peninsula. Leaving Santa Monica, you come across Manhattan Beach first followed in quick succession by Hermosa and Redondo.

Winter temperatures in the beach cities average about 55 degrees (12 Celsius)and 70 degrees (21 Celsius) in summer thanks to westerly winds that also help keep the smog away.

Along the eastern border of the beaches lies the Strand, a concrete bike path that starts in Redondo Beach and leads all the way to Will Rodgers State Beach north of Santa Monica.

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The Strand on Redondo Beach. Image courtesy of Airbnb

Unfortunately, the Pacific Coast Highway cuts the beach cities into east and west neighbourhoods. The west-ends are all about the beach.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach is 21 miles (34 km) south of LA on the Pacific Coast Highway and a world away from the carnival atmosphere of Santa Monica. Its clean, wide beach attracts  visitors from around the world.

Along the Manhattan Beach Strand are multi-million-dollar homes that will make you want to run out and buy lottery tickets. Thirty-six thousand residents call this city home.

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Image courtesy of the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP)

Manhattan Beach is most famous for beach volleyball and is home to the annual Manhattan Beach Volleyball Open held in July.

Manhattan Beach Pier is located at the end of Manhattan Beach Blvd. and juts out almost 1000 feet into the ocean and is home to the Roundhouse Aquarium.

Lights, camera, action

Manhattan Beach is home to the Manhattan Beach Studios, a film and TV production facility where America’s Funniest Home Videos was recorded and Marvel Movies like Iron Man 2 were filmed.

Things to do in Manhattan Beach

Beach volleyball, swimming, surfing, body-surfing, cycling, shopping, Roundhouse Aquarium.

Hermosa Beach

Just 1.7 miles (3 km) south of Manhattan Beach lies Hermosa City Beach. Hermosa’s claim to fame is surfing. In January, when we were here, surfers in wet suits braved the waves while families tobogganed down a sand dune on surfboards. This unofficial beach sport brought a smile to my face as I had only ever seen people slide down snow-covered hills.

The city is the smallest of the three beach cities. It has a population of about 20,000 and spans 15 blocks from east to west and about 40 blocks from north to south. But within its border, you’ll find many bars and restaurants as well as shops.

The Hermosa Beach Pier is at the end of Pier Avenue, which is a hub of bars, restaurants and shops. At the start of the pier is the Surfer’s Walk of Fame. There’s a statue of a local surf hero and bronze plaques engraved with the names of surfing luminaries.

The restaurant and bar scene seems more alive here than in Manhattan beach.

Things to do in Hermosa Beach

Surfing, swimming, paddle boarding, fishing off the pier, beach volleyball, cycling, shopping, dining and partying.

Redondo Beach

Just one-and-half miles south of Hermosa, Redondo has triple the population of Hermosa and a Mediterranean vibe that is unique among the three beach cities. Palm trees line the Strand and a concrete wall protects the promenade, much like the in the towns that line the Italian Riviera. Million dollar homes line the east side of the Strand and the beachfront is quieter than Hermosa’s.

The wide and flat beach is ideal for playing volleyball and permanent nets are maintained by the city year-round just like on the other two beaches.

Things to do in Redondo Beach

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Redondo Beach Pier is full of amusements and dining spots.

The Redondo Beach Pier also juts 1000 feet out into the Pacific Ocean, but unlike Manhattan’s pier, on Redondo’s, you can shop, dine and enjoy amusement games.

Other typical activities include surfing, swimming, beach volleyball, fishing, shopping and dining.

All in a day

We visited the three beach cities in a single afternoon. I wish we had a full day. That’s all you really need to experience the laid-back California beach lifestyle far from the maddening crowd.

What to do in Gaspé

The Gaspé peninsula is a road-trip holiday. There’s no public transportation to speak of and the distances between towns are significant. You’re here for the scenery, which is free. But in between magnificent vistas there are some worthwhile fee-based attractions. In this last Gaspé blog, I share what stoked my family.

Percé Rock in Percé

This is the raison d’être for our road trip. Over 1,000 feet long and 300 feet high and wide, the rock is a monolith jutting out from the ocean. It made its way to Quebec from Africa in prehistoric times. It’s imposing and impressive and it will take your breath away. A boat tour is the best way to see Percé Rock up close. You can walk out to the rock in low tide but expect to get very wet. Also, chunks of the rock are falling into the ocean so it’s dangerous to wade out to the rock just to touch it. Signs warn of falling rocks.

Julien Cloutier boat tour in Percé

My husband, teenage son and I took two boat trips on the same day in August. Both trips were okay.

The first, was the trip to Bonaventure Island. Good commentary on the island and on Percé Rock. The captain took the boat around the rock and the Island. We didn’t get off on the island. It was a cool, cloudy day and it was fresh at sea. No coffee or refreshments on board.

The second trip was the 1 p.m. whale watching tour. We were gone 2-and-a-half hrs. on choppy seas and saw two harbor porpoises and one Minke whale (barely and briefly). So, the second trip was a bust. It cost $240 for the three of us.

Apparently, chips, water and the like were offered on board but an announcement was never made. Thankfully, info on life-vests and how to use them and where to find them, was presented in English and French.

Julien Cloutier is the only tour-boat operator in Percé. You have to drive to the town of Gaspé for a competitor. I just wish we had better luck.

GeoParc in Percé

We had run out of things to do in town and were waiting for the whale watching boat tour when we stumbled upon this gem. It’s behind businesses on the main road, near a camp ground. Easy to miss but worth it.

We were not sure what the attraction was about and had to ask at the front desk. It’s a presentation of Percé’s geological history. It’s designed to capture your attention and imagination.

You’re given what looks like Tarot cards at the entrance to the exhibit. You’ll need to insert the cards into individual stations to active the station. Each symbol on the card is representative of that station’s information. The first station looks like a carnival fortune-teller stand. Sure enough, a crystal ball illuminates and an audio track kicks off the ‘mystical and magic’ history of how Percé Rock came to be.

It’s very dark inside and very young children may be frightened. There are three video presentations. Nothing ordinary about the videos. It’s all Industrial Light and Magic stuff!
The stations incorporate audio tracks, video, and for lack of better words, trick lighting. At one point you appear to be walking through a brook, with babbling water and all. Yet, you remain perfectly dry. The second floor has information boards designed in glass. Beautiful.

Expensive. 15$ per adult. Lasts one hour. There’s also a kids’ jungle gym/climbing room across the hall. We saw young adults climbing the day we were here!

Metis Gardens/Reford Gardens in Grand Métis

We stopped at the gardens en route to Gaspé National Park. It was pouring rain and we thought twice about it and I’m glad we went.

Our inn-keeper gave us coupons for 15 per cent off the entrance fee, which made the detour even sweeter. The staff had a supply of enormous umbrellas at the entrance, which we were thankful for. It would have been impossible to see the gardens without them.

Despite the rain, we visited for over an hour. Elsie Reford is the woman behind the gardens and she dedicated herself to creating an English garden setting in the wilds of Quebec.
The gardens are lush, rich and colourful. The setting is natural, wooded, hilly and rocky in places. There’s a natural stream running through a portion of the gardens. A naturalist’s dream. Thanks to a micro-climate, she cultivated gardens where there were only trees and rocks. Reford introduced species of flowers new to Quebec.

At the end of the garden is a lodge, which was Reford’s summer home. It’s open to the public as a museum of what life was like at the home in the early 1900s. Fascinating.
Even our teen didn’t seem to mind walking around flower beds and touring the lodge. Must see.

Gaspé National Park in Ste. Anne des Monts

This national park is actually a provincial one but that’s Quebec for you. The Chic-Choc and McGerrigle Mountains cross the park. Some of the highest peaks in Quebec are found in these mountain ranges. Between the mountains are valleys with streams, forests and lakes where depending on the season, you can hike, swim, boat, fish, cycle, ski and snowshoe.

A visitors’ centre in the middle of the park provides information as well as supplies and equipment rentals. And, the service here is bilingual.

Accommodations in the park range from upscale hotel rooms in the Gîte Mont. Albert to un-serviced camp grounds in the woods. We stayed in a ready-to-camp huttopia. There are also isolated wood cabins and comfortably furnished cottages and bungalows near the Gîte, which are ideal for large groups.

We stayed a couple of days but honestly, you could spend a week here.

 

 

Gaspé accommodations

This blog on Gaspé is all about where to stay. There’s plenty of places to rest your weary head but none will be at a chain. There wasn’t a single hotel chain to be found during our seven-day trip. Welcome to mom and pop inns, B&Bs and motel/hotels. Good-bye Best Western, Holiday Inn and the like. A break from the standard highway hotels gave us a chance to meet and speak casually with local workers and experience small-town hospitality.

Gite la Roseraie in Ste. Flavie

We stayed in the “Familiale” suite on the second floor. It consists of one room with a double bed and a twin bed in an alcove with a curtain divider. The room has its own bathroom with shower. There’s no air-conditioning but there are two windows, which provide a decent breeze. Many trucks drove by through the night and it was too hot to sleep with the windows closed in summer.
I stepped on nail clippings on the floor early in the morning on my way to the bathroom and when I picked it up, I got long strands of hair in my hand as well (not mine). Apart from that, the room, sheets and bathroom were clean. The shower is minuscule but functional.
However, the caveat is that the beds are rock solid and immensely uncomfortable! My husband and I were in pain in the morning and our son, who can sleep anywhere, complained that his back hurt. The inn-keeper needs to change the mattresses in the “Familiale” room, not to be confused with the “Famille” room on the same floor. Maybe the other beds are more comfortable.
Breakfast is included and it’s homemade, hardy and delicious. Between us we had crepes, French toast, eggs and bacon, orange juice and coffee, fresh fruit and toast! Everything is included in the price ($95). Can’t beat that, or the inn-keeper’s hospitality.

Huttopia in Gaspé National Park

My son loves to camp and since I don’t, a huttopia was our compromise. We both loved it. This is glamping at its best. Just show up with your sleeping bag and some food. And, don’t forget wine. You can store it in the fridge! Yes, this ready-to-camp-tent has a fridge, outdoor stove, all the cutlery, plates, pots and pans and glasses you’ll need for four people. There’s even a toaster and kettle plus dish-washing accessories including dish soap and clean rags.

A picnic table and chairs are placed in the middle of the A-frame tent. To the right is the kitchen counter with cupboards below and a small fridge. At the back are beds, which consist of a raised wood platform with four plastic mattresses. Just plunk your sleeping bag on top and you’re ready for bed. Right outside the front door to the tent is a propane stove. The canvas roof is high enough so you don’t have to stoop inside (except on the beds) and the front door has a pad lock. There are also zipper-windows.

One night was about $150, which included taxes and the daily park entry fee for three people. Your kids will love it and so will the kid in you.

Hotel-Motel Manoir de Percé in Percé

Manoir de Percé is a good deal. It’s located across the street from Percé Rock on HWY 132. It’s super clean, offers free Wi-Fi, complementary coffee at reception and a small fridge in the room.
The bathroom and room décor are dated and the towels are rough. Those are my only two criticisms. Our room, 157, is the last room on the second floor; accessed by outdoor stairs. The porch and room window overlook the rock! We had the best view in town. And no one walked passed our room!
We took the hotel up on its dégustation (tasting) menu. The package was a five-course dinner and a hardy breakfast. The restaurant is located on the main floor. The décor is also dated and a little stuffy, but the food is delicious and the service friendly and attentive.
The room, with two double beds, was $104 a night. We all agreed that we would stay here again.

Gaspé restaurants

In the second of the Gaspé vacation blogs, I’ll highlight the restaurants we stopped at during our week-long drive. You’d think that being right on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the verge of the Atlantic Ocean, the seafood would be out-of-this-world. Think again.

While seafood is a mainstay on most local menus, most of it is deep-fried and battered. Unbelievable, but true.

Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon

The first restaurant we ate at was in Ste. Flavie on our first day, at the end of the long drive from Montreal. Our innkeeper suggested it. Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon looked promising with Easter Island-inspired carvings in the water behind the restaurant and in the art space next to it.  The restaurant is attached to an art gallery downstairs and an inn upstairs.

I learned this place is highly regarded  but it was a regal disappointment. We were thankful they could accommodate us with no reservations on a Saturday night, but an hour wait-time for our food to arrive, after we ordered, was ridiculous. I wish they had said, ‘sorry no tables.’ When the food did arrive, it was tasteless and the bill, expensive.

Drop-by for the art and Gulf views. Dine elsewhere.

Le Matelot

This place, right on highway 132 in Baie des Sable, hugs the shoreline. It was packed on a weekday afternoon. Le Matelot came highly recommended to us by Montrealers who have summer homes nearby.

This casual place serves good seafood. A lot of it is caught locally. We dove into our seafood chowder full of Matane shrimp, scallops, and fish. We also ordered the escargot and pasta dish. The portions are small. The waitress was friendly and the service quick. What more do you want from a lunch-stop on the side of a highway?

Resto-Pub la Revolte

We stopped for lunch in the town of Gaspé. La Revolte is a sports bar/pub that wouldn’t be out-of-place back home in Montreal. Mid-range, on the water, typical pub menu, quick and friendly service.
A McCoy bus-tour of seniors piled in shortly after we arrived, so I take it that the restaurant is popular with tour companies. The restaurant also has a waterfront deck. We ate inside and had club sandwiches and a hamburger platter between the three of us. If you want authentic Gaspésian food and décor, you won’t find it here. What you will find is a big-city-style pub right on hwy 132 .

Gite du Mont Albert

The bar accommodated us on a weeknight without reservations when the restaurant couldn’t. Located inside Gaspé National Park, the bar was packed, so the staff was slow to acknowledge us and set our table but once they did, service was awesome.
We each had the burger platter and I had an aperitif. Best burger in years! However, the salad was limp and the pasta portion was tiny and tepid. After glamping in a huttopia for two days this was a treat. The décor is a mix of traditional Québecois country lodge and contemporary restaurant. We lingered as long as we could because no one wanted to go back to the campground in the rain!

Hotel Motel Manoir de Percé

We took our hotel in Percé up on its dégustation (tasting) menu. The package was a five-course dinner and a hardy breakfast. The restaurant is located on the main floor. The décor is  dated and a little stuffy, but the food is delicious and the service friendly and attentive.
The package is for manoir guests only. The dinner/breakfast deal was $47 per person. Wine is extra. Breakfast ranged from eggs and bacon to pancakes with orange juice and coffee included. Considering how expensive Percé is, this was a deal.

Boulangerie le Fournand 

We stopped by for a late lunch in Percé and we all had the croque monsieur. It was 3 p.m and most of the lunch offerings were gone. We had seen a long line-up around 12:30 p.m. The service-person heated up the sandwiches and brought them to our table.
The service was quick and friendly and the sandwiches only $6.95 each. This is a budget-friendly lunch-spot right on the strip.

Auberge la table à Rolland

We stopped in here for dinner our last night in Percé because it was getting late and there was no line up, like at other restaurants. Now we know why. It’s just okay and pricey for what you get.
The tables had clear plastic covers over the table cloths. Not pretty. I had the lobster club, which came with the worst fries ever; limp and not even browned. I couldn’t eat them. No salad side-option. My husband had the basil pizza, which he said was delicious. My son went with the 12-inch pepperoni pizza. That, with 2 ice teas, one aperitif and one garlic bread came to $87 before tip but after taxes.
It’s expensive for what you get. There are so many other restaurants to choose from on the strip.