Living on Plan B

Transporting the Wedding Dress

TRAVEL THERE: GOING WITH THE FLOW IS JUST PART OF THE JOURNEY

Last week I admitted how much I loved the neat little packages called hours, because they keep my days in order.  I’m also fairly fond of making a plan and then executing it.  As you’ll see as we travel along, I had a plan for Egypt and much of it came to fruition, but having the ability to just go along with whatever happens is really a skill you need to develop, if you want to truly enjoy Egypt.  Being married to Bill has given me a head start on this ability and I’m glad I had it to pull out of my kit.

Plan B
So, Plan A had gone awry and we had a choice. Welcome to Egypt!

Bassem could drop us off at Mona’s (Bill’s sister/Bassem’s Mom) or we could go with him to Mariam’s (his fiancee). This caused a slight frisson for me. All that hurried gift fritzing was immediately rendered useless.  The five gift bags settled around my feet in the car would do me no good.  To boot, I’d have to continue carrying them around until I could deliver them to the appropriate recipients.

I also had another dilemma. Egyptian protocol suggests the appropriate moment for gift-giving is the first time you see the donee. You get a pass at the airport with those who pick you up, but after that you should greet people with their gift the first time you see them.  I desperately wanted to run back into the hotel and trade my Mirette family gifts for whichever would be right for wherever we ended up going.  That wasn’t possible, because we were already out on the street and even by the measure of Egyptian time, we needed to hustle.

The time crunch was creeping up on us, because the Easter Luncheon was scheduled before too long.  So it was decided we’d go to Mariam’s and save Bassem from having to stop by his parent’s house to drop us off and then pick us back up.
So, off we went!

I wasn’t too worried about the gifting thing. I would have preferred to show up with something, but we’d hosted the Ghaly’s at Christmas and exchanged wonderful gifts. I sort of had a deposit of goodwill in the Egyptian gifting bank with them. I want you to know they are delightfully gracious people who would not have cared whether we ever gave them a gift at all, but I was trying my best not to drop any Egyptian balls.

The Excitement Builds

Going to Egypt under any circumstances is a pretty exciting adventure, but going for a wedding explodes the thrill factor. Seeing Bassem having his mani/pedi got the wedding juices flowing, but arriving at the bride’s family’s apartment turned that flow into a gushing fountain.

The bride’s parents were thrilled to see us and in true Egyptian fashion starting bringing out food. Homemade cheesecake, cookies from a wedding shower, various pastries, cupcakes, you name it – even though we were saying, “No thank you. We had a late breakfast. No thank you. We’re only here for a minute. No thank you. We don’t want you to go to any trouble,” the whole time.

Also appearing in the Ghaly living room was the bride, a huge pink bag full of wedding dress and luggage for the honeymoon. As I feared, we were presented with a beautiful gift, a spray of decorated chocolates adorned with Easter decorations. Her parents insisted that they were treating us to a dinner boat cruise later in the trip and as we headed out the door, we were forced to take the decorated wedding cookies from the shower. I love Egyptians!

Look guys! Sat 7!

One side note. The TV was on in the apartment, not that anyone was paying it any attention.  Since I volunteer with Global Heart Ministries and they create Christian programming for satellite broadcast in Central Asia and the Middle East, I couldn’t help peeking to see what they were watching.  Sure enough, the tv was tuned to one of the channels which airs our programs. We are not broadcast in Egypt, because our shows aren’t produced in Arabic (yet), but I was thrilled to see the Ghaly’s were watching our channel.

We loaded up and headed to the hotel.  That time in the car with the wedding dress in my lap, the undelivered gifts around my feet and my armload of chocolates from the Ghaly’s is one favorite memories of the trip.  It perfectly captured my time in Egypt – running late on Egyptian time and executing Plan B, but loving every minute of it.

Back at the hotel I had to hustle.  I had all of about half an hour to fluff myself up and get ready for the next event.  That meant shuffling more gifts.  Since the party was honoring the bride and groom, I couldn’t deliver any of the other presents, but I did need to get the wedding gift ready.  A driver was scheduled to pick us up and while the rest of the country might be on Egyptian time, the drivers were prompt.

I’ve rambled on for long enough now. Come back next week for the Bridal Luncheon.

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Spot On Images Hits the Mark

Spot On Images, http://spotonimages.comTRAVEL HERE: DO WHAT YOU LOVE AND IT WON’T FEEL LIKE WORKING

I’ve been telling you about Bill’s gleeful return to the real estate industry and how he dragged me along with him.  To my own surprise,  it didn’t take much dragging.  I’ve discovered that it’s not that I don’t like real estate.  Come to find out, I just didn’t like being a real estate agent.  I’d rather write about a house than sell it, so once I got over my initial resistance to the idea, Spot On Images was born.

Text and Images: A Marriage Made in Heaven

One of the reasons our marriage works so well is that Bill and I have complimentary skill sets.  While neither one of us is particularly fond of cleaning toilets, we’ve parceled out the various duties of our joined lives in a way that suits both of us.  He does his stuff and I do mine.  Thankfully, each of us enjoys most of the items which are on our lists.

It just so happens that his passion for photography and my penchant for words are also a good match professionally.  Each of us has a specialty that works in unison to accomplish something very important in a person’s mind – especially a home-buyer’s mind.

While you can find all kinds of statistics to support the idea that our brains naturally seek images, but we don’t really need scientists to tell us this one, just visit your Facebook feed.  The cat video will get you every time.  As soon as gif’s became available for comments we all forgot how to talk.  People like pictures.

However, our brains also like words with our images, both spoken and written.  There’s a oft-quoted article by 3M that tells us our brains process pictures 60,000 times faster than text, but that article and many others will tell you our brains also like words.  While a picture can anchor a thought in our minds, if there’s no text, there’s no way to know what idea the image may anchor.  There’s also research to support that the processing of these words can help us to better remember the images, because the easier a font is to read the more quickly we forget what it said.

A picture may actually be worth a thousand words, but it’s important for advertisers, educators and many others to be sure their images convey the right message.  Without a little text, the same cat video may say two completely different things, depending on the audience.  While the video may charm one viewer into a trip to the local shelter to adopt another feline, it could convince another viewer to never add a cat to their household.  Without a little text, no viewer will ever figure out the video is actually promoting a new cat toy!  Nor will they know where to get one for their own cat.

The article by 3M discusses how important images and text are in presentations, while a post on Fast Company touts infographics.  The bottom line is that if you have a message to convey, the best way to do it is with both images and text.  That’s exactly what we’re offering to our real estate clients.

Spot On Images:  Images and Text

Bill takes amazing photos and videos, whether he’s using his tripod or his drone.  I’ve been in marketing all of my professional life.  I’m saavy in social media.  My degree is in Creative Writing.  I have the words to go along with his images.

Some real estate agents just need pictures for their listings.  Others just need web copy or the right words for a brochure.  We’re happy to provide either one or both, but when we combine our skills in a narrated video tour or a website – lookout!  The benefits of images with the right text can multiply in geometric proportions and I’m glad to be in the business of helping real estate agents market their lisitings.

Check out our website.  We’d love to help you out with your images and text.

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A Word About Planning

The whole gang, bride and groom front and center

TRAVEL THERE: IT’S TOUGH TO PLAN FOR EGYPT ON YOUR OWN

The big wedding day we’d come to Egypt for had arrived, but I had no role in it until about four Egyptian time, which turned into more like 5:30 real time.  It’s taken me a while, but I am finally learning to pause when I travel.  Cruises force you to do that and I have noticed that I enjoy them immensely.  I had resisted Bill’s suggestion that we go on a tour on the day of the wedding, for which both of us ended up being very grateful.  While Bill and I slept late on the wedding day, let me tell you a little bit about the planning for this trip.

A Different Travel Planner

This trip was very different than most of our travels, because I didn’t plan it.  At first, I assumed planning would fall in my jurisdiction, but since I wanted to rely on a travel agent for a trip of this magnitude and my travel agent wanted to rely on third party packages, Bill ended up working it out himself.  He looked to me to assist by researching attractions, landmarks and museums I wanted to see, but he took over the rest.  In part, that’s because he wanted to be sure we got the Egyptian rate.

Egyptians don’t pay the same amount as tourists in Egypt for most things.  While Americans will be glad to know most Egyptian hotels are bargains compared to the same quality hotel elsewhere, Egyptians pay even less.  This is not true at the Fairmont, however.  Rates in Dallas are pretty much the same as in Cairo and while other hotels gladly gave Bill the Egyptian rate when he showed them his old Egyptian passport, the Fairmont was a little more persnickety, demanding he have a current passport and proof of residency.

While I’m talking about planning, let me say this.  Trying to use the internet to research travel in Egypt is an exercise in frustration.  Since this was my second trip to Egypt, I’d already seen the obvious, well-known attractions which have an inkling of how to communicate with potential visitors.  I had a vague idea of the other things I wanted to see, but with the exception of a few reviews on Trip Advisor, I was pretty much on my own.  Please ignore most of the Trip Advisor reviews on Egypt.  I’m not sure what these folks were expecting in Egypt, but it sounds as if they thought they were going to Disney, “Nothing here except some ruins.”  OH PLEASE!

 

Heres your best bet for travel in Egypt

The Family Travel Agent

Bill’s niece, Mirette, is married to Ayman, which sort of makes him my nephew, but it’s by marriage on both sides and I have a hard time figuring all that out.  Paternal this, twice removed that and great or grand?  These things always confuse me!

Way back when Mirette married Ayman, I was told he was the manager of the Thomas Cook offices in Sharm El Shiek, but that didn’t register with me as “travel agent”.   To me that sounded like a financial position, because all I knew about Thomas Cook was that they had traveler’s checks.  (Remember Traveler’s Checks?)  Well, duh!

This trip was so easy for Bill.  I did the research and Ayman did the booking.  I think Bill wanted to show off his expertise and plan even more – hence my need to say no and no and no and no.  I found out we just might be kin to the very best agent in Egypt.  If Sharm El Shiek is on you list – then fuggetaboutit!  Just call Ayman.  He’s the unofficial mayor of Sharm El Shiek and he knows everybody in town, but he can book anything in Egypt.

Seriously, if you’re going to Egypt, call Ayman.  He manages the Sharm El Sheik branch of Travel Choice (a Thomas Cook company).  His email is tcsharm@travelchoiceeg.com and his telephone number is +2(069)3601-808-9.  His English is impeccable.  He’s a nice guy and he has years of experience.  Tell him Bill and Jane Sadek sent you and you’ll be treated royally!  BTW, the website is www.travelchoiceegypt.com.

As incredible as his work for us was in Sharm, he’s also good outside of Sharm.  He knows all of Egypt very well.  He’s the one who hired our driver and guide for Cairo and Alexandria.  Both were perfect – competent, courteous and conscientious.  The driver especially.  On the way to Alexandria, there was a horrid traffic jam.  He took the next exit and drove around like a chase scene from The French Connection.  At first it looked as if he’d made one of those turns you never come home from, but before I even had time to worry, he squirmed through several tights situations and had us on the Corniche.

Bill’s family is Christian and while I am no Islamophobe, it was also nice to know I was being escorted around Egypt by people Christians trust.  Our driver was a Christian who had a cross hanging from his rear-view mirror and informative stories about Believers throughout the Middle East who visited Egypt.  Our guide was a Muslim with whom we enjoyed several intelligent conversations about the effects of religion on Egypt over the centuries.  Riding through backstreets of Alexandria in a cab, which had a radio spouting religious antipathy and a driver whose grimace suggested he was resentful our our presence, made me appreciate Ehab and Zahran even more.  (BTW, it wasn’t Ayman’s fault I was in that cab, Bill decided we’d do Alex on our own.  More to come!)

Next week I’ll tell you about the ways I enjoyed my quiet morning at the Fairmont, but I had to give a shout out to Ayman.  It’s not just family loyalty that caused me to recommend him.  If he hadn’t done a bang-up job for us, I might have just allowed you to think I’d done my own bookings, but because I care about you getting the best when you travel, I’m urging you to call Ayman.

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What’s Planned vs. What Happens

TRAVEL THERE: LIVING ON EGYPTIAN TIME

Time is both my ally and my enemy.  I like having something that divides my day into neat little pieces.  If I look at my clock at 3:30 AM then I know I can go back to sleep.  If I arrive at a destination at the appropriate time, it’s a little victory I can savor in this world of frustrations.  However, those neat little pieces don’t always fit the crazy life I live.  I sit down at the computer to write and a day is gone before I even realize it and rarely have I accomplished what I hoped.  In Egypt the concept of time is a whole ‘nother matter>

The Plan

One of my priorities at this point in the trip was to quit carrying around all the gifts and get them to their appropriate recipients.  The last thing I wanted was for something to get lost, broken or otherwise damaged, before I put it in the hands of the donee – especially those all important bottles of scotch.

As I mentioned last week, Bassem was going to pick up his bride, and suggested we spend some time with family over at Mirette’s.  That would reduce my load by five presents.  I was glad for the opportunity to do that, but I was also looking forward to meeting her twins – teenagers who have been my friends on Facebook for a long time, but I’d never met in person.

So after we saw Bassem in the salon, I hurried back to the room to fix up the gift bags for Mirette’s family.  That took more fritzing around than it sounds like it should, since I had to unpack everything, sort through it, match it up to the gift bag it was meant for and adorn it with tissue and bows.  Though it made us a little behind schedule, it was only by a few minutes and we were on Egyptian time.

Egyptian Time

If an Egyptian tells you he’ll meet you at 9 AM, I suggest you ask him if that is real time or Egyptian time.  If it’s Egyptian time, then you might be cooling your heels for a couple hours or you might actually have to wait until bokra (tomorrow).  Don’t be afraid to ask.  They know how they are.  And here’s a further warning, like the Mexican manana, there’s a silent “or maybe never” inferred in the word.

So, while I was a few American minutes late to the lobby with my bags of gifts, I was right on time by Egyptian standards, but this is also the point where the plans went awry.  It seems Mirette was not home, because she had been recruited for a final wedding errand.

Kudos to Bassem’s sisters Mirette and Maggie.  Without them there would have been no wedding.  A wedding coordinator was hired, but titles can be a fluid thing in Egypt and she was more of a florist, so Mirette and Maggie filled the gap.  Just to make things more interesting, it was a holiday weekend and the wedding coordinator/florist was out of town.  We were left to the whims of the people she had convinced to stand in for her.  Every other moment she was calling and delegating yet another wedding errand to the bride and groom, who in turn found someone else, usually Mirette or Maggie to take care of it.  That Bassem actually got married rather than murdered is a kind of miracle.

My first few hours in Egypt I had managed to stay on American time, but before they served me my first lunch, that was over.  I was now on Egyptian time.  Set you clocks for next week and join me for a little fun with the bride and groom.

 

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We’re Back in Real Estate

Brochure from our days in real estate

TRAVEL HERE: HOW SPOT ON IMAGES CAME TO BE

So last week I told you about our days as residential real estate agents in California, but I still haven’t told you how that led to us start Spot On Images.  Here’s the rest of the story.

When the Bubble Burst

We enjoyed the good old days in real estate, but they ended when the bubble burst.  I’ll share a secret with you, I was sort of glad to be out of it.  We made a lot of money, but I really didn’t like most of the tasks that went along with selling homes – with one exception, I loved creating those brochures and writing the descriptions for the MLS.

Bill loved real estate and he never understood why I didn’t.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he did most of his work behind the scenes and I was the one out there showing houses and writing contracts.  Bill loves it so much that even though our licences expired, he’s kept his fingers in it.  We have rent houses and we’ve sold our own homes.  While most folks can’t wait to hire an agent or they begrudgingly put the FSBO sign out in the yard, Bill is totally energized by the whole process.  He’s taking pictures, creating a website for the home and guiding me through every step of the process with alacrity.  OK, so I’ll go ahead and confess, I really do enjoy creating the brochures and writing the web content.

Real Estate is Back

So back to our real estate photographer friend who was leaving town.  He was entirely too nice to take our money, when we offered to buy his business.  Instead, he showed Bill the ropes and encouraged him to start his own business.  For almost all of our marriage, even when we were selling real estate, Bill’s primary occupation has been investing, so I assumed his interest in real estate photography was just a bit of nostalgia.  Boy, was I ever wrong!

While he’d never completely abandon his investing, he’s automated it to the point that he has time for his other passions.  When the real estate photography bug bit him, he started buying camera equipment of all sorts.  He spent his days getting a feel for his new toys and getting up to speed on all the latest technology.  There was no question of his expertise.  He’d started taking photography lessons in his twenties and it’s been one of his passions ever since.  Most of the great travel photography on this blog comes from him.  As far as his photographic abilities are concerned, he could have hung out his shingle the day he decided to do this, but that’s not how he does things.  He dots his i’s and crosses his t’s.

As he exercised his photography muscle he also started working on me.  He praised my marketing expertise and reminded me of all those people who said they bought my listings because of the words I had written.  In the guise of sharing with me what he’d been learning in his research for his new business, he pointed out how important the internet and social media were to the success of real estate agents.  He was being nice about it, but here’s the bottom line, I was about to be back in real estate, too.

So what did I think about getting back into a business I’d been happy to get out of.  Come back next week and find out!

 

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Good Morning Cairo

Hookah Anyone?

TRAVEL THERE: MY FAVORITE THING AT THE FAIRMONT HELIOPOLIS

My favorite thing at the Fairmont wasn’t a thing at all.  It was Ahmed, the waiter in the Le Marche Cafe.  Le Marche was my favorite place for breakfast during the whole trip.  Having to face down a buffet every morning actually gets pretty old.  Le Marche was a little a la carte cafe and while the food was good, Ahmed was marvelous!

Breakfast Not Included

Breakfast-included is kind of an Egyptian thing, but since the Fairmont is so Americanized, you could make breakfast-excluded reservations.  And this is a good place to tell you, it is very Americanized.  Except for a few decor items and the over-abundance of Arab-looking staff you could be in a hotel in Middle America for all you could tell from the interior surroundings.

For some folks that’s a recommendation, but not so much for me.  I love my American creature comforts, but I also like them to come in an exotic package if at all possible.  Our next hotel will do just that, but let’s get back to breakfast.

Before we headed downstairs, I dutifully perused one of those huge leather-covered tomes I’d hidden away from us the night before.  With it I got a feel for breakfast possibilities.  Here’s a rundown from the hotel’s website:

Dining choices at Fairmont Heliopolis are truly endless that varies from Lebanese favorites at Al Dabké, genuine Egyptian cuisine at Egyptian Night, authentic Thai delicacies at Lan Tania, modern Chinese specialties at Noble House, authentic Mexican cuisine and fantastic margarita’s at Maria’s, classic Italian cuisine with a modern twist at Leonardo, All-day dining at My Kind of Place, the freshest sushi and sashimi at Saki Sushi Lounge, Indian cuisine at Raj, chill-out outdoor venue at Pizza bar, contemporary international cuisine at Aqua E Luce, French patisserie at Le Marché, fast dining style at Marilyn and pool bar serving light snacks at Blue Lagoon Bar.  

My reading told me we’d end up at Le Marche, but we were having a lazy, late morning, so I wasn’t opposed to browsing the lobby.  We walked past Le Marche and saw My Kind of Place, which had a sign announcing, “Breakfast Performing Here.”  I certainly wasn’t looking for dancing eggs and the sight of a buffet didn’t seem tempting.  Price being one barrier and the number of upcoming breakfast buffets being the next.

Marilyn’s was a Marilyn-Monroe-Themed cafe, but it looked closed right then.  We saw the Thai restaurant, the Mexican Restaurant, the Italian Place and some of the others, all waiting for dinner time.  Continuing through the lobby we happened on Aqua E Luce on the Towers side of the hotel.  They didn’t have a sign telling us breakfast was performing, but there was a buffet, which by the way did seem a little more inviting than the one over in My Kind of Place, if you are ever interested.

We kept on walking and found the Towers Pool.  It had a Pizza Bar and lots of hookah equipment.  Before I left Egypt, I also discovered it was the location for their Egyptian Night, but that story is for another day.  We began to re-trace our steps and found our way to Le Marche, just as I had anticipated, but I hadn’t imagined there would be an Ahmed!

Le Marche – ask for Ahmed!

Le Marche Cafe

Le Marche has a pastry counter filled with delectable treats and we were salivating over them when we were approached by Ahmed.  We confessed to be overwhelmed by our breakfast choices and Bill asked him if there was a menu.  Ahmed and Bill were soon swapping stories in Arabic as I drooled on my own.  Ahmed ushered us to a seat and continued his banter with Bill.

Bill suggested we share one of the croissant sandwiches with turkey and while I really wanted one of those humongous pastries, I acquiesced and asked for the bonus of a Coke Zero.  Bill isn’t much of buying beverages in restaurants, but we had come down without our water bottle, so I got my Coke Zero.  This was treat, not only because it was a splurge to get a restaurant soda, but because most of Egypt has Diet Coke, not Coke Zero and while I’d prefer a Diet Dr Pepper, I prefer Coke Zero to Diet Coke.

Ahmed was polite, solicitous and not at all inappropriate, but he should have just set down at our table.  He and Bill became fast friends in about two minutes.  The two of them chatted throughout the meal.  When we got the croissant sandwich it was delicious and plenty for two.  The conversation was so friendly I was concerned that I might be sitting most of the day.

The Rest of the Hotel

When breakfast was over, we headed out to check out the balance of the hotel.  We found the gift shop, laundry and offices.  Then we found out way out to the primary pool complex, which was extensive.  There were a number of pools, a hookah cafe, indoor squash court and clay tennis courts.  We found a pretty nice playground and gave the fitness center and spa a thorough inspection.  High marks on all counts, including the friendly staff.

We looked at our watches and realized time was flying.  Bill contacted the groom, who was in the salon getting a mani/pedi.  He was about to head over to his bride’s home to transport her to the hotel, but he offered to drop us off at his sister’s place.  That sounded good to me, because I was ready to quit carrying around gifts and start delivering them.

Come back next week for the fun!

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Spot On Images

TRAVEL HERE: WHAT’S NEW WITH US!

I’ve got exciting news to share.  Bill and I have been nurturing a secret for several months, but now we’re ready to spill the beans.  Read all about Spot On Images and spread the news.

A Little of This and That

So what happens when you take a husband with an entrepreneurial streak, an MBA in business and a passion for photography and you match him with a wife with three decades of marketing experience and a degree in Creative Writing, who’s heavily into blogging and social media.  Well, if the two shared a successful real estate business for several years before the bubble, you might end up with Spot On Images.

If you’ve ever wondered, “What am I doing here,” but in the next moment realized you’ve been training for this opportunity all your life, then you know how we feel right now.  If I were to try to tell you where it all started, I have no idea where I’d begin.  It would be sometime after we were born on separate continents, but the story would have to start long before we ran into each other one day at the Dallas Museum of Art.

So, let’s start with the day we learned a real estate photographer friend was moving out of the area.  While most people would discuss the details of departure dates and moving vans, Bill wanted to know if they would be interested in selling their business.

Real Estate in the Days Before Smart Phones

OK, I know my husband is a great real estate photographer, but his question took me by surprise.  Back in the days before the bubble, when all this online real estate shopping was brand new, you were lucky if a listing had a picture on it.  If a For Sale sign had a brochure box, chances are it was a printout from the MLS.  That’s not how we sold houses.  Mr. Bill would go out with our new-fangled digital camera and take pictures.  We’d upload as many as we could to the MLS  (I think you could only post 11), along with descriptions that went far beyond “3/2/2 in desirable neighborhood with ocean view” which seemed to be the norm.

We weren’t the only ones there on California’s Central Coast who appreciated the advantages the internet offered to real estate agents, but we were unique enough for our listings to really stand out and I took it a step further.  I created a unique brochure for every home.  No MLS printouts and no sticking the pictures in a pre-formulated brochure and filling in the blanks.  Each brochure was an individualized masterpiece.  I’d labor over matching the right font with my carefully crafted words and mix the text with Bill’s pictures.  We’d even print the brochures in color on coverstock, an expense most agents thought was a complete waste of money.

Nowadays, that just sounds like business as usual, but back then, we were mavericks.  What’s more, it worked.  People contacted me to show my listings and then as we wrote the offer, they’d say things like, “I knew the minute I read the brochure I wanted to live here,” or “When we saw the pictures and read the description on the internet we knew it was our house.”  Meanwhile, most real estate agents were still doing it the way they always had – working the desk at the broker office, sending out postcards to their “farm”, lowering their commission and then spending most of it on advertising.

Unfortunately for our career, the real estate bubble burst.  Our lives brought us back to Texas and that was a good thing.  However, the real estate bug had gotten into Bill’s bloodstream.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about it.

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