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Just because my path is different, doesn’t mean I’m lost.

There are certain mornings that when the alarm goes off you just know your world is about to shift on its axis. Today was one of them.

Before the early morning hour was over, I was stunned to learn that two gentlemen who have greatly influenced me had died.

On the same day, on the same morning.

On the face of it, their lives don’t appear connected. But, to me, they are.

You see, during 2017 I was asked by my Senior Marketing Manager to share my top 25 Persons of Influence on my life, my company and my career – in a blog series. I agreed and am forever grateful that I did. It gave me an opportunity to cherish these influencers and helped me see how their gifts had made me who I am today.

I am sad and walked around in a daze all day.

I am incredibly struck by the sharp contrast of the lives lived by these two men and yet, without a shadow of a doubt, I know they walked across the finish line into heaven and were welcomed into eternal glory this morning.

For the Reverend Dr. Billy Graham, the world knew of his faith. It is no surprise then in his own words he said, “Someday you will read or hear that I am dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Billy Graham phantom screens

And for my homeless friend, John LaLonde, or “Treehouse John” as I lovingly referred to him. Would the world judge him and extend the thought of the same eternal glory for him?

Treehouse John, Phantom Screens

He was dressed in torn and dirty clothing, was always unshaven and often the demons of his mental illness caused him to make poor life choices. But even so, I can take absolute comfort and joy of remembering our conversations where he boldly declared to me his one true known comfort – that he belonged mind, body and soul to his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

And for that reason, my friends, I can rejoice and celebrate knowing that early this morning the Lord opened heaven’s door to not only one good and faithful servant but to two.

I extend my sincere condolences to the LaLonde and Graham families.

May God surround you with His peace and comfort during this time as you close the earthly life chapter of these two remarkable men.

Leading Would Be Much Easier with No Followers

Phantom Screens 25 years

I’m not gonna lie to you.

Sharing 25 Persons of Influence with you this year has been hard! Not because I was coming up short on names, but rather because I felt it was in my best interest to be a little politically correct, so I didn’t offend that friend or employee over and above this one and…..I trust you feel my dilemma.

So at the risk of being all milk toast and honey, I am ending this series by stating that my 25th Person(s) of Influence is my Phantom family of employees.

Every CEO probably brags about their team and how great they are. If you know me well though, I’m quite alright with being contrary especially when it means speaking the truth.

They aren’t always great. Sometimes they frustrate me to no end.

BUT here’s what I do love about them: they care.

They are dedicated to not just their jobs but to Phantom as a company.

The highest compliment I can pay an employee is when I say: “now he/she wears Phantom underwear”. I used to say they bleed blue and gold but now that our logo has dropped the gold coloring in favour of a fresh deep navy blue only, my original saying has become defunct!

But you get the point.

I really do love and respect our employees at Phantom. They challenge me each and every day to be a better leader and a better human being.

They don’t hold back, they say how they feel and they constantly keep me on my toes. It’s a great influential atmosphere that continually challenges me not to become complacent.

Are they perfect? No. Because they are human just like you and me. But because they want to do the right thing and have attitudes of right intentions, it’s much easier to overlook the less-than perfect results because I know they aren’t going to walk away and leave me stranded. And you cannot buy that kind of loyalty.

Do some of our employees leave Phantom Screens? Of course they do.

But I count that as success too, if being at Phantom helped them find themselves or open doors to pursue opportunities elsewhere. I wish them well and very much enjoy our distinguished Phantom alumni now living all over the world. I love hearing from them – which I often do.

Do all our employees love Phantom as much as I make them sound like they do? Of course not.

I’m not naive, even though there are days I’d rather pretend as much! But here’s the thing. If we’re continually striving to do our job right as an employer, they’ll find their honesty and either come around or move on to something that suits them even better!

So there you have it. Blog #25.

We got to the end of this marathon blog series together!

After two and a half decades, I have a pretty amazing and awesome and big Phantom family. It stretches around the world and is full of the most extraordinary people who have all touched my life in some way – big or small.

It’s a journey I wouldn’t swap for the world and has been a true and rich blessing from God.

So to close, I thought I’d share a very quick video from our Christmas potluck lunch last week with all my current employees who I am proud to call my Phantom family!

A blessed New Year to you all!




The Christ in Christmas

Phantom Screens 25 years

For my 24th person of influence I’m trying something different and uploading a “vlog”! As it is my first kick at the can – you’ll have to excuse my shaky camera work!

I almost feel bad calling Him a “Person” because it feels wrong but, my 24th Person of Influence is who we celebrate on Christmas. The Christ in Christmas, Jesus Christ. I want to keep this light, but He is definitely the biggest influence in my life personally, here at Phantom Screens, and with my friends and family.

So, from me to you I want to wish you a very happy Christmas and I hope you get to spend a very special time with your family during this holiday season. Thank you for taking the time to read all my blogs this year and we will wrap up with one more before the end of 2017!

Again, Merry Christmas, and leave me a comment with the most influential person in your life this year!

Another Southern Treasure

Phantom Screens 25 yearsIf you’ve ever read, followed, listened to or met me, you will know I am in love with the South. The architecture, the food and especially the accents. So I’m delighted to introduce you to my latest Southern belle.

Please meet Miss Beverly Phifer, Chair and President of the huge Phifer Company.

Beverly Phifer, Esther De Wolde, Phifer Company, Phantom Screens

Since the beginning of Phantom Screens way back in 1992, we have bought most all of our insect mesh material from Phifer.

Phifer is located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Isn’t that just fun to say? Especially when you hear a local say it. Tuscaloosa, Alabama – it pours over the brim with Southernly wonderfulness.

There was something about that company that intrigued me.

All the employees we interacted with, and I mean all of them, were so caring, kind and filled with hospitality. Having done a little research, I discovered Miss Beverly Phifer was the head of the organization, succeeding her father J. Reese Phifer who founded Phifer in 1952.

I knew we were just a teeny-weeny customer of theirs, but I decided to get brave and write her a letter. I wanted to ask if I could come see her to glean whatever business wisdom she would be willing to bestow on me, never ever thinking I would hear back from her.

But, being true to who she is, I received a reply. And yes, of course she would make time for me.

That was over 15 years ago. We’ve had a number of meetings since and I continue to admire her leadership of her family’s growing business.

What I admire most about her is her compassionate concern for her entire staff, her kind but firm approach and most of all her curiosity and zest for life.

She is my real life inspiration to seizing the day!

You may recognize her from my Southern Romance tea party. I was so excited for her to be one of my three real, live, Southern guests and truly honoured that she chose to make the time to attend – especially as Mobile isn’t exactly next door for her.

Thank you Miss Beverly for being a guiding light for my own career.

Never Too Old To Learn

Phantom Screens 25 years

I am a sucker for punishment.

OK, I’m using that word a little loosely I suppose. What I really mean is: “criticism, instruction or a good ol’ slap upside my head”. Any kind of advice or feedback that is harsh enough to get my attention, but genuine enough and (most importantly) said in love to try and make me a better person.

I feel beyond blessed to have people like this in my life. Today’s blog highlights one of those people. You may be surprised to read that I actually pay him for this punishment.

Rob McGregor, Spirit West ManagementMeet Mr. Rob McGregor, of Spirit West Management – my very own Leadership Development coach. He doesn’t like to be called a corporate shrink but seriously people, the only thing missing is the couch.

I’ve talked about him before. He’s the one I went to the first time with a staff problem; only for him to tell me I was the problem. Whoa. That got my attention. I say what?

He has held up the mirror for me to understand my areas of opportunities (corporate speak for ‘my weaknesses’) and given me tools to better myself.

I wish self-improvement was easier but then again, nothing easy is worth waiting for.

If you live in the old-school world that thinks shrinks are for sissies, I hope you re-think your belief. I see coaches and counsellors as preventative medicine that we should all take, because every one of us humans was created to be more than we can imagine – evolving every day and year, striving to seize our God-given potential.

And so, I believe people like Rob are God’s gift to those of us who have trouble finding our potential on our own. Whether in business leadership, marriage enrichment, family relationships – you name it – Rob has had a positive influence on all these aspects of my life.

Don’t tell him I said this, but his influence is worth way more than what I’ve ever paid him.

So go ahead. Make that call you’ve always wanted to and reach out to be a better you.


Who would you go wade in a pond with?

Phantom Screens 25 yearsAnother influence I’ve been blessed with who I get to tell you about.

She and I both joke about being in a rut.

Me for 25 years with Phantom Screens and she for 15 years with Alpha. No, not the fireplace people. Rather the not-for-profit organization which helps us explore the big WHY questions of life. An awesome, awesome program – check it out here

Shaila Visser, Alpha CanadaBut as much as I’d love to brag about Alpha, the point of today is to brag about the gal who heads Alpha in Canada and is on the Alpha Global Executive Team: my friend Shaila Visser.

She has been in my life for what feels like forever, but in truth, more like 18 or so years. We met pretty early on in our careers, not having a clue what lay ahead for either of us.

Our first adventure away together (which is code for ‘we get to drop our professional faces and just be us’) was back in the early 2000s when we attended a Billy Graham Executive Conference together in the smoky blue mountains of North Carolina.

The location alone stole my heart, but spending time with Shaila also changed my heart forever.

Now you are probably going to ask: “how so?” But this is where I’m going to have trouble explaining it.  In fact I have a feeling that ANYbody who is given the luxury of time with Shaila would feel that way.

But let me try…

Shaila Visser, Alpha CanadaShe should be Oshkosh’s poster girl – she is the genuine article – the real deal. She is solid as gold, perceptive beyond normality, and oozes encouragement and good ol’ humour.

What I love the best about her is this: despite us not getting to see each other much at all, and through her ups (and she has many) and through her downs (she has more than the average) – she stays Shaila.

Her head doesn’t swell when her position has her moving with the country’s elite, appearing on television or speaking to crowds of thousands. Nor does it give up on her faith when family dreams don’t come to fruition or disease and death are knocking at her door.

She will be the first to give God all the glory and be the first to cling to our Creator when it’s all she has to hold on to.

She inspires me to press on, be bold and live life to the fullest enjoying it for the gift it is intended to be.

Not to blow her cover, but she was my stalker-accomplice that you can read about in a blog post back in March this year

Shaila Visser, Alpha CanadaI think every girl who finds herself in a professional place in her life, where 99% of the time you must be “on”, act your age and be responsible, needs a girlfriend in the same predicament. This way the other 1% of the time, you have someone you can giggle with like a schoolgirl, kick off your heels and go wade in a pond and never ever be judged by the other one.

If you got any fun ideas for her and me, I’d love to hear them!




Sweet Home Alabama: meet my Southern Mama

In 2014, I set out to tick off Bucket List #67: restoring a Southern home. Which – to cut a long story short – found me in Mobile, Alabama.

Once restoration of the home had begun, news got out about this Canadian girl’s adventure in the South. Soon I was contacted by a lady who claimed to have spent much of her childhood in the 1920’s playing on the front porch of the house I was bringing back to life. She was best friends with a girl, Miss Myrtle May (Morgan) Hartman who grew up there.

The dear lady who managed to track me down is none other than Katharine Phillips-Singer. Side note: If you want to see a heart-warming reunion of the two old friends, check out their story we captured in my Southern Romance episode 8 . Still brings tears to my eyes.

It only took one visit with Miss Katharine to know my life was going to be richer for it.

She has patiently allowed me to adopt her as my southern Mama, and she lets me pester her with visits every time I am in town.

I’ve written about this amazing lady before but since this blog series is about people who have influenced me, I must include her.

If I have to pick, here are my three top reasons why:

  1. Her approach towards aging is contagious. She takes the fear of aging right out of me. In fact, she makes getting old look truly like the honour that it is. Even though she dislikes her cell phone and never did get a computer, she still embraces keeping up with what’s new and happening around the world. She still lives on her own in her familyhome and refuses to let her aches and pains keep her down – facing them with her wonderful sense of humour. Oh! If you could hear that laugh of hers – combined with her story-telling abilities – you’d see why I love to be with her whenever I can.
  2. I’ve always felt retirement is a word I have no interest in and she is my living proof that working keeps you young at heart.Although in the past year she has reduced her entrepreneurial activities to only one business, she continues to run her antique business at 94 years of age. She has no intention of slowing down if she can help it and I just love that about her. And maybe, just maybe I’m also enamoured by the fact she loves antiques just like I do!
  3. Through Miss Katharine and her brother,  Dr. Sidney Phillips, I was awakened to the fact that WWII wasn’t just about fighting in Europe. Being a daughter of Dutch parents, it goes without saying that naturally their war experiences are what I grew up hearing. In the Phillip siblings’ wartime stories, Miss Katharine was the sister left behind when Dr. Sid joined the Marines in Guadalcanal. I became aware of the battle which raged in the Pacific through Dr. Sid’s memoir “You’ll be Sorr-ee“. In it one is exposed to the atrocities of what soldiers faced everyday on the battlefield from their pathetic living conditions to the horror of witnessing gruesome deaths.
  4. Through their many stories, the realities of war then and now has become much more personal for me and has increased my sensitivity and thankfulness for those who choose to fight for theircountry, then and now.

    So, I can only hope that if I am blessed with a long and healthy life like Miss Katharine, that I too will find the secret of attracting young people to keep me company and give me purpose!

Is Silence Always Golden?

Phantom Screens 25 yearsSilence sure is golden when you’re planning a nice quiet evening in front of the fire, curled up with a good book and bowl of buttery popcorn – and have to share it with no one.

Strangely though, being a recent empty-nester those kinds of evenings are less in my dreams and more in my reality lately – its funny how the grass always appears greener on the other side of the fence until you’re the one stuck mowing it.

But let’s get back on track.

If you consider all of history’s revolutions, rebellions and revolts, they have one thing in common…

Someone slashed the silence.

Someone dared to speak up and defend a deeply held conviction. While I know there are some throughout history who spoke out for the wrong reasons or with the wrong intentions, thankfully, so many more real life heroes speak up in defense of the value of human life.

harvey weinstienThese are the good folk who broke the silence for the good of their fellow man, community and in some cases – the world. The most recent example I can think of is the #metoo campaign that followed the exposure of a Hollywood executive.

I think Tom Hanks said it very well when he reminded his interviewer that this wasn’t just isolated to the movie industry. This type of behavior exists in many, if not all, industries.

So let’s all be aware, brave and speak up when we see or hear of unacceptable behavior to one another – especially if a power imbalance exists.

So that’s what leads me to my Person of Influence #19. We have to travel back in history exactly 500 years, as of October 31 last week.


Martin Luther…

My Marketing team always warns me to stay away from speaking or writing about my bent on politics, race and religion – which generally is really good advice. But I can’t let this influential 500-yr old day in history go by without at least saluting one of my forefathers of faith.

Meet my real life hero – a priest, composer and monk named Martin Luther. Now don’t get him confused with the modern day “I Have A Dream” Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Movement leader in America. Not only were their names almost identical – they both had an “I Have a Dream” speech.


…not to be confused with Martin Luther King.

Ok, ok, I know the first wasn’t a speech. But he too changed the world when he nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany – sparking an intense conversation about God, faith and grace.

This event, known as the Protestant Reformation, has influenced the world then and now to a degree beyond understanding. Luther was one of those people who didn’t worry about what other people thought, rather led by God, he was compelled to speak up for what he believed was right – the ultimate betterment of mankind – despite the persecution he knew would surely follow.

I know I didn’t have that kind of courage when I was younger.

But in my middle years, I am beginning to understand when you receive insight into something wrong, it isn’t only your right, but also your God-given responsibility to defend the defenseless and expose the evil.

I just pray I find the courage when it’s needed most.




Daughters Know Best

Phantom Screens 25 yearsBefore you read this, I must point out that, although this becomes the official Persons of Influence blog post #17 and #18, the numbers are in no way representative of the level of Influence these two have had on me.

In fact they should be in the Top 3 for sure.

They are our two daughters and their influence on my life extends way past personal, deep into my corporate career and on Phantom Screens.

So let me introduce Courtney Johanna (’95) and Madison Lyn (’98) – Courtney De Wolde, Madison De Woldeour daughters from our 31 years of marriage. Do the math and you will note our first 9 years were sans kids. The remaining 22 was with them and I wouldn’t change that for anything, especially now as we slide into our second year of empty-nesting.

I admit it, I’m missing them a lot.

These two bright, unique, happy, wise and wise-crackin’ gals have kept their mama on her toes from day one! Having managed hundreds of staff directly and indirectly, I pretty much figured I knew how to run a crew, much less two skinny farm kids.

Oh how wrong I would be!

First lesson up is the power of doing what I say.

Whether you are a parent, an uncle, grandma, or Sunday school teacher – those little eyes are watching every move you make. When, not if, when your actions don’t match up to what you have told them… WHAM!!! It’ll fly back in your face faster than a creaky screen porch door.

And mark my words, our two girls have no fear of vocalizing their observation immediately and in front of anybody. But really, I’d have it no other way. Although I wouldn’t mind if they’d lose the scoreboard and finally forget the times they’ve heard me use some words I ain’t proud of saying.

De Wolde Family, Esther De Wolde, Phantom ScreensThe second free lesson from the girl birdies in my nest is keeping life’s priorities in order.

I’m pretty sure I do not stand alone on this one as a mother working outside of the home. Again, I am thankful both Courtney and Madison knew how to keep me in check without me feeling like they were intentionally laying guilt trips on me or being all whiny about it.

Leave it to them to say it like it is…

“Mom, you made Dad go skating with the class last week so it’s your turn to come watch me swim.” “Mom, you worked all week, put the laptop down and look at me when I am talking to you” (funny how that line would reverse itself when they reached teenage years).

They weren’t heart-wrenching, heart-string pulling words, just practical advice out of the mouths of babies. I tried to heed with all my might, balancing motherhood with corporate plans, field trips with business trips and bagged school lunch making with dining out with clients.

I have become the Queen of Balancing.

Certainly not the last lesson taught to me by them, but the last for this blog was and continues to be humility.

Nothing and no one keeps me more humble than these two offspring. They seem to make it their life’s mission to point out my shortcomings and failures. I swear it has become a game for them, but then again I’m pretty easy prey.

It started out so innocently on my part when they were young.

I loved to make them giggle themselves silly by telling them what dumb thing had happened to me that day. You’d almost think I searched out silly things to do just to hear their heart-warming laughter at the dinner table.

Recently I now realize they take huge pleasure of re-telling my foibles to their friends, making me out to look like the child and them the mothers.

I don’t know if that’ll ever change though. I always seem to forget that my desire to hear them enjoy my life’s crazies actually becomes future ammunition for them to fling at me.

Just yesterday in my haste to leave the house to get to work on time, I noticed the dog’s empty water dish outside. I hurriedly ran to turn the garden tap on, picked up the hose to fill her dish (all the while balancing files and my hot coffee mug in the other hand) only to accidentally drop the running hose into my cowboy boot.

And I kid you not, the first thing I thought of was wait ’til the girls hear this one.

I guess I’m just a sucker for punishment.

Enough about me. Tell me the lessons you’ve learned from the ankle-biters in your life. I bet between us we could write a book.



First Impressions Don’t Always Count

Phantom Screens 25 years

Have you ever met or known someone you hope you never get stuck with at a party? Or even worse, stuck in a car on a long drive out of town? You know, the kind of person that puts your back up the moment you meet them?

And have you ever been spectacularly wrong? Talk about a misjudgment.

Yes, this is a set up to introduce my next Person of Influence.

Pretty unbelievable then, that 25 years later Geraldine Geraldine, Friend, Esther de Wolde(you have to say it with a heavy Dutch accent just because it’s fun to bug her) became a very dear friend, mentor and partner in all volunteer-related things at church.  So here’s a word of caution to all you young married women. If you are forced to hang out with that annoying wife of your husband’s best friend, chin up! She could be your next best friend.

Her influence runs so deep with me.

At eight years older and wiser than me – I learned so much from her. Not on the domestic front as much but more in the deep meaningful areas of life – and why having faith mattered. How to love the unlovables, the down n’ outers, and those plagued with mental illness.

Through her enthusiasm I got heavily involved in all things community with our church, teaching Vacation Bible School, running the evangelism program, Alpha with her and even creating an annual Adventure Fair for our church neighborhood kids.

None of these things held interest for me until she came along.

I realize now how contagious certain people’s attitudes can be. If that’s not inspiring enough I don’t know what is.

Before I knew it, our families were vacationing together, hanging out on weekends and just generally blended together. I always said when our two girls were young we had the best deal ever.

Geraldine, Esther de WoldeTheir two girls were of babysitting age, so going to Hawaii or Disneyland was perfect! Thank you Bec & Sarah!  Funny that now the roles are reversed. When our girls come home from college they babysit their children. Ah, the circle of Life.

This is my 16th Person of Influence.

But I waited ‘til now as this past week marks the 12th anniversary of Geraldine’s passing on to glory. It seems like only yesterday that I heard her cackling in the hospital hallway consoling me that her heart surgery would go well and she would see me tomorrow.

In life, we learn that we can’t control what happens to us or when, but we sure can control who our friends are.

I am forever thankful for the friendship of my dear friend Geraldine. Until we meet again.

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