Almost anytime I mention my siblings to someone who’s never met them, they smile and say, “You have the most interesting family.”

Although I think that my siblings are all fascinating people, I sometimes forget what a uniquely adventurous group we are. Until three years ago, getting together was a rare event that insured we were all on our best behavior when we congregate, but I think it goes much deeper than that.

Our siblings are, after all, the longest relationships most of us have. That shared history, no matter how good or how bad, lays a foundation that can’t quite be met by any other relationships that follow.

My sisters and brother aren’t just my longest relationships, however. They are each intriguing people in their own right.

What I like best—and admire most—is that each of them has designed a life that reflects their personal passions and talents.

Just imagine a family gathering with this cast of characters.

Nancy is two years younger than I am and the one who always had the most clarity about her path in life, it seemed. When she was in junior high school, she decided to become an archaeologist.

That’s precisely what she did, becoming a leading authority on Etruscan architecture.

She lived in Athens, Greece, for most her adult life, then spent a decade in Rome before moving back to Santa Barbara at about the same time I moved to California.

We tend to think of her as the scholarly one—she is Dr. Winter—but that’s not the side we see.

Continuously curious, she is always up for new adventures and just paid her first visit to Universal Studios accompanied by my grandchildren.

My next sister, Becky, had the difficult situation of being born the middle child. Maybe that’s why she has a natural ability to organize things. Much of her working life has been spent in libraries, but her organizing skills show up in everything she does from trip planning to running her house.

Like the rest of us, she’s an enthusiastic traveler. The only one of us who is married, she is also the only one of us to have appeared in the Today Show window.

Jim is the lone male in our tribe, but he’s learned to manage it well. Besides being a genuinely nice person who often reduces me to hysteria, he also has seemed the most paradoxical.

A longtime employee of Southern California Edison, Jim is also a talented painter and enthusiastic surfer, continuing to surf as often as the waves cooperate. His gorgeous painting of Italian rooftops hangs above my fireplace, a lovely reminder of one of our family trips to one of our favorite places.

Margaret is the youngest and has a well-earned reputation as the Scrabble player to beat. Besides sharing a love of books, Margaret and I were also single parents of a single daughter each.

Like our father, Margaret is a walking encyclopedia of useful information. If i want to know how to fix something or cure a malady, I check with Margaret after doing preliminary research on Google.

Her home is a testament to her skills as a gardener, woodworker and decorator. She also makes stunning hair fascinators.

Although Becky, Jim and Margaret have spent most of their lives in California, our relationship has evolved even more now that Nancy and I are in the same neighborhood.

Whether we’re gathering for our monthly Second Sunday dinners or planning a museum outing, I always come away thinking, “I really like these people.” Then I notice that my creative spirit feels well-fed.

As Jane Howard reminds us, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”



It was spring break last week for my granddaughter Zoe so she decided to spend some time with me. It was a busy visit.

Several months ago, she had agreed to barter one of her handmade books for a custom made headband from my sister Margaret. The project had been neglected for too long so she was determined to finish her end of the deal.

Zoe had begun writing her story, Finnegan and Chico Get Lost, a fictional tale about Margaret’s rescued dogs, but forgot her original manuscript at home. I suggested she start over and, as so often happens, her second attempt produced a better story.

The transaction took place at our Winter Family Sunday Dinner. The book was adorable and the headband gorgeous. Both parties walked away happy.

It was also a fine reminder of using alternative currencies.

Bartering gets high marks with creative entrepreneurs since it allows you to trade services and products without money being exchanged.

The tricky part of this is figuring out what’s an even exchange. That’s where barter clubs come in allowing you to accumulate credits. (Do an Internet  search to track down a club that suits your needs.)

A man who attended a seminar of mine in Atlanta told me that he had lived for three and a half years totally on bartering. Many people, especially new business owners, find that bartering allows them to get all sorts of things they can use without having to spend cash.

From time to time, I’ve done a bit of bartering myself. One of my favorite experiences was helping a talented photographer launch his business in exchange for a photo shoot.

Recently I heard from Karen Clare, a Facebook friend whose primary business is called A Doll a Day. She was delighted by a transaction she’d just made. Here’s what happened:

I have a friend who needed some help with his eBay sales. He’d been bugging me to give him a call.

I seized the opportunity to explain that what we really needed to do was to spend an hour together where in I would show him the tips and tricks of creating great listings. But since my expertise was valuable, I wasn’t going to do it for free.

I remembered that he was a former hair stylist (who is now on disability) and I needed a cut. So I traded out an hour and a half of my time for a great hair cut.

I am finally starting to think in new and creative ways about monetizing all of my skills, even those I used to share “freely” (no pun intended), with friends. In this instance a trade was an ideal way to go.

Have you used barter in your business? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment and share your experience.


Today my sister Margaret is headed to the garment district in Los Angeles on a field trip for her business. I know she’ll return with all sorts of treasures that will take on a new life in one of her hair ornaments.

Yesterday she participated in a bridal show, introducing brides to her Over the Top Fascinators. Since starting her business earlier this year, Margaret has acquired feathers, jewels, fabrics and combs of all shapes and sizes. She’s also acquired two rescue dogs that need a lot of attention. Happily, she can combine both in her living room.

A few days ago, she and I were having one of our frequent Skype chats (where she often shows me the latest creations she’s working on) and for some reason the conversation turned to the subject of resumes and cover letters. Margaret suddenly looked thoughtful and said, “I’d be working on my resume right now if I hadn’t found the feather.” 

“If I Hadn’t Found the Feather could be the title of your autobiography,” I joked. She laughed, too, but is quite aware that this happy enterprise has made a huge difference in her life. Her perpetual enthusiasm is downright contagious.

Like many wonderful enterprises, this one seemed almost accidental. Last fall, Margaret’s daughter had a friend who was getting married. Alexis, the bride, asked Margaret to make a fascinator for her to wear at the wedding. I’m not sure if Margaret knew much about fascinators at the time (I was oblivious until she introduced me), but she found the experience so delightful that she bought a few feathers, some veiling and began creating a few more. Then she had some new ideas and turned those into hair ornaments. Suddenly, she was headed in a new direction.

Margaret’s daughter Gretchen shared her enthusiasm and offered to build a Web site for her. Gretchen rounded up some friends and a photographer and scheduled a photo shoot. In its brief lifetime,  Over the Top Fascinators has had disappointments and detours, but Margaret’s passion has moved it right past those interruptions. 

Watching my youngest sister evolve as an entrepreneur got me thinking about tiny Bhutan, a small country in the Himalayas. Bhutan is an unlikely place for the birth of an international trend, yet its policy of determining success based on Gross National Happiness has gotten the attention of leaders from around the world. The term was coined by Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, when he ascended the throne in 1972. GNH defines prosperity based on spiritual well-being and environmental responsibility rather than consumption. 

Imagine that…building prosperity that takes into account personal happiness and well-being. And to think it could start with finding the feather.

Some people go all fuzzy at the sight of a new puppy. My daughter the doula feels that way about babies. And I get all shivery over startup businesses. Seeing a baby idea come to life makes me want to jump in and help.

As the late Sydney Harris reminds us, ideas, like airplanes, are most vulnerable on takeoff. For many new kids on the block, the tricky bit is getting the word out. So today I’m sharing a handful of new businesses in the hope that you’ll check them out for yourself and pass the word along.

Last fall, I got a call from Joe Cruse asking for help on self-publishing a book he’d written called I Don’t Smoke,  a “stand alone” (do it yourself), but not a “go it alone” (get a cheering squad), treatment in a book.

Joe is a lively septuagenarian who is an addiction specialist. Among other things, Joe was the Founding Medical Director of the Betty Ford Center at Eisenhower Medical Center and also served as President of the medical staff at Eisenhower Hospital. We discussed his options and he chose Booklocker to produce the book. In no time at all, Joe had books in hand and has already won an award from the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. 

If you or someone you care about still smoke, I highly recommend I Don’t Smoke.

Another new business I’ve been raving about is Live Counseling. Based in Austin, TX, this startup offers counseling services on a wide range of subjects—no matter where you live. Counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help solve problems, listen and advise. If your new dog won’t stop pooping under the bed or your 4-year-old is suddenly sassy or your relationship is feeling rocky, you can get help quickly.

Live Counseling is also building a portfolio of experts so this could be a great opportunity for you to add another profit center and share what you know. It’s a brilliant idea whose time has come.

Know a bride, bridal shop owner, or fashion-conscious prom or nightclub goer? If so, they need to know about Over the Top Fascinators. I admit I had never heard the word fascinator before my sister Margaret started her business, but I’ve had great fun watching her have great fun creating dazzling hair ornaments. Visit her Website and you’ll not only see her elegant creations, but you’ll see storytelling in action when you read her descriptions. 

If you or someone you know has a special occasion coming up, Over the Top Fascinators will make sure you stand out in the crowd.

“Reinvention” is the buzz word of the day—and for good reason. If helping others reinvent themselves appeals to you, consider signing up for Valerie Young’s brilliant Outside the Job Box consulting program and you’ll be on your way to a new startup of your own.

By the way, if you have a startup that you think my readers should know about, send me details at

Sometimes to make it big, you first have to make it small. Conrad Hilton started out sweeping floors in a dusty New Mexico hotel. He cleaned up as owner of a famous hotel chain. John Paul Getty started with a $500 oil lease in Oklahoma and become one of America’s richest men. David Packard baked the paint onto his first product in a kitchen oven. Forty-five years later, he was running a $4.7 billion company. There are anonymous men and women starting small today whose names will be household words in 20 years. Will one of those names be yours? Get started.–Harry J. Gray

As I was running errands yesterday morning, I heard an interview on public radio with violinist Joshua Bell. He had some interesting things to say about how he maintains his enthusiasm for music. Part of his success, he hinted, is that he’s also passionate about football and other things that have nothing to do with music. He confessed that some days he doesn’t even practice his violin. As I listened, I realized that Bell’s approach is one adapted by many creative souls…my sister Margaret, for example.

Before  Margaret drove me to the airport for my flight back home on Tuesday, she loaded up her car with tools. One of the customers for her handywoman services needed a house call after the man of the house cleaned their aquarium and dumped the rocks down the garbage disposal causing a household emergency.

After she dropped me at the airport—and before she came to the rescue of her distraught homemakers—Margaret stopped at a large fabric/craft store and purchased feathers and other supplies for her big new passion, handmade fascinators. Her enthusiasm has been so contagious that all sorts of people are adding their support. Earlier in the day, Margaret’s daughter called to say she had the photographer booked and was lining up models for an upcoming photo shoot to expand her Website. Over the Top Fascinators has generated a creative flurry  at Margaret’s house and a delightful new profit center.

While I love the juxtaposition of fashionista and handywoman, I also realized that the way in which this has come together is a study in generating creative thinking. What did Margaret do that we can use in our own enterprises?

1. Created a vacuum. After two decades in corporate life, Margaret quit her job not quite knowing what was coming next. She did, however, think it was time to be self-employed. It took a bit of time for her to realize that Another Pair of Hands, her handywoman business, was an idea that was hiding in plain sight. The bigger lesson here is that getting rid of what we don’t want often is a critical first step to creating what we do want. It also requires some courage.

2. Followed where enthusiasm led.  Too often we dismiss ideas when they don’t fit neatly with other things that we’re doing. If we acknowledge the the creative life will open new doors to new passions, we tend to be more welcoming. After all, passion begets more passion so we constantly discover new things to be excited about.

3. Practiced creative cross-training. Being involved in activities that require wildly different activities can be a powerful force for building creative muscle. Each activity makes its own special contribution and synergy is the result.

While our rational left brain may be telling us to keep thinking about solutions or options, often shifting gears for a while produces far greater results. 

Explore More: It’s only January and  I may have already found my favorite book of the year. Sir Ken Robinson, one of the world’s best-known thinkers on creativity, has a brand new offering called The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. Filled with great stories, along with his keen observations about creativity and innovation, this book is both fun to read and wonderfully encouraging. There’s his story about the Traveling Wilbury’s, for instance, which reminds us that if we start the creative process we may end up with something far more brilliant than we expected. Robinson also talks eloquently about the importance of finding your tribe and nurturing your own inherent creative spirit. Simply inspiring from cover to cover.

Enthusiasm is the most important single factor in making a person creative. ~ Robert E. Mueller