Finding my place in the sun

The view from my downtown St. Louis apartment — my eighth home in eight years.

Eight years ago today, I was living with my mom in the town I grew up in just south of the Twin Cities. I was a year-and-a-half out of college, working two part-time jobs—day shifts at FOX Sports North and weekend overnights at KARE 11 News—and I had been dating a guy named Scott for about six months. Kind of funny that I ended up marrying a DIFFERENT Scott, huh?

Calm down… I’m kidding—it was the same Scott.

Anyways, I wouldn’t land my first full-time job for another six months, but I never could have dreamt up the journey I was about to embark on… never.

In these eight years, I’ve moved seven times, changed jobs six times, lived in five different cities, worked in four different states, gained three siblings, raised two cats and followed one big dream—one really big dream that I didn’t even realize I had until a few years back.

Even though it sounds like I had a lot going on, not much about my story is unique, at least not for a millennial.

I graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism, which offered a lot of flexibility in terms of what direction I could take my career. Naturally, I started in news… my first full-time gig was at KCTV in Kansas City, and before long I accepted a similar position back home in Minnesota with WCCO.

Alas, a few years of working as an assignment editor was enough for me to realize that news wasn’t my jam. I had a lot of fun and met some amazing lifelong friends, but my heart just wasn’t in it.

I switched to communications—still unsure what my “dream job” really was. I first worked for a nonprofit, before jumping ship to a corporate gig where there was more money to be had (almost 50 percent more, to be exact). I wasn’t really happy there, though. Yeah, yeah… insert your “money can’t buy happiness” comment here. I know, I know, you told me so. I get it.

I then did one more switcheroo from the private sector to government. I had heard from several people that working for the state was a lot more “chill,” and at the time, a low key gig was just what I needed. You see, it was during my first post-news job at the nonprofit when I had my “aha” moment: I loved airplanes… I always had.

So, throughout those few years of uncertainty, stress and not making “enough” money in various communications positions, I was also trying to figure out what the heck I could do with my love of aviation. I tossed around a few ideas in my head, and picked the brains of my family and friends.

Simultaneously, I was on two huge journeys: one with my head (trying to find my place in the working world) and one with my heart (trying to make something of my passion). I knew though, that if I really, really wanted to, I could rekindle the romance between my head and my heart, and weave these two stories into one epic saga.

I started small… I went out to MSP Airport a couple times a week to watch planes coming and going—I took pictures and quizzed myself on the manufacturers and models of the various aircraft. On January 1, 2017, I started this blog and launched my @thegreatplanes Instagram account.

Shortly thereafter, I began working with a mentor who critiqued my writing, cheered me on and helped me to get my name out there. I then did some freelance writing for Airways Magazine, which—between the many interviews I conducted and trips I took—was completely life-changing in the best possible way.

I was a few months into my job with the State of Minnesota when I got “the” call. It was Boeing, wanting to interview me for a position on the Executive Communications team in Chicago. No ifs, ands or buts… I knew I was taking it.

The job itself was a great experience, but it was pretty demanding and, on top of that, I was living alone while Scott finished school back in Minnesota. Despite the challenges, I did my very best… I made friends, I learned as much as I could and I kept a smile on my face even when times were tough. I had no idea that just one year after moving to Chicago—and before my husband even moved down there—I’d be packing my bags once again, this time for St. Louis.

And so, today, I find myself a Missouri resident once again. I’m working on Boeing’s historical archives team, where I’ll get to tell the story of all the amazing people, products and events that helped Boeing to become the industry-leading aerospace company it is today. That’s pretty remarkable, to me at least.

If my story isn’t enough to prove to you that YOU CAN DO ANYTHING, then I don’t know what is. At 31 years old, I’ve had a lot of jobs, I’ve lived in a lot of different cities and I’ve put myself first more than once, but all of it was because I was following my heart… and I’m glad I did. Plus, millennials are supposed to be selfish job hoppers, right?

Fly on, my friends… fly on.

If you never try, you’ll never know

A year ago tonight—a Thursday evening in the third week of October—I sat at home with my husband in our downtown St. Paul apartment, frantically preparing myself for what I considered to be the biggest opportunity of my life. The next day, on October 20, 2017 at 12:30 p.m., I was to board American Airlines flight 2455 from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Chicago O’Hare—a 400-mile, 80-minute flight. Upon arrival, I’d board the CTA Blue Line, exit at Clark and Lake, walk one block south and five blocks west to get there… to get to Boeing World Headquarters to interview for a spot on the Executive Communications team.

You may have read my blog from last November, proudly announcing I’d be moving myself and my two cats to Chicago to work for the greatest aerospace company on the planet. It was such a bittersweet time in my life—I was following my dream, but leaving my friends… my family… my husband… I was leaving all of them behind in the state I called home for 28 of my 30 years of existence. Lucky for me, I had a rock solid support system then—luckier yet, I have that same rock solid support system now.

While it’s been tough at times, everything about this experience has made me a better, stronger person. I’ve met incredible people and learned incredible things about the aerospace industry, the world, communications… and I’ve even learned some pretty incredible things about myself. It’s been one heck of a year, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

A few highlights:

  1. I live a hop, skip and a jump away from the second-most-connected airport in the world… it’s truly an aviation enthusiast’s dream! To say I’m out at ORD often may be an understatement.
  2. I got to visit Boeing’s Everett factory for the first time in my life. It’s an overwhelmingly huge, city-like building where incredible, beastly machines are built to connect people and goods across the globe. So. Flipping. Cool.
  3. I met one of my best friends, and her amazing partner. You know how sometimes you just connect with someone, and you immediately feel the goodness in their heart? That’s how I feel about this person—she’s a remarkable human, and one heck of a communicator.
  4. I reunited with one of my best friends… someone I went to high school with and someone I’ve always had a special bond with. She handed me an extra stick when I dropped one of mine while drumming in an emo band more than a decade ago, and today, she brought my doodle to life to create a legit logo for The Great Planes.
  5.  I started traveling by myself. I find cheap, same-day, round-trip flights to new cities and I go explore. If you have the capacity to do that, I highly recommend it as it’s helped me to break out out of my anxiety-ridden, introverted shell, and meet new people and build a sense of confidence I never thought I’d have.

Coming to Boeing taught me that following your dream is worth it. Even though being in a new city is tough, adapting to a new lifestyle can be stressful and learning a new routine can be really, really hard… it is worth it. I’m a very, very lucky girl… and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

A Cleaner, Greener MSP

I seriously feel like my hometown airport, and the place I like to call my second home, is recognized for something nearly every week.

Most recently, Airports Council International North America (ACI-NA) recognized the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) for its work on carbon emissions.

MAC recently developed a carbon management plan, which is the second step of the official carbon accreditation process. MSP achieved the first step in accreditation by mapping its carbon emissions in 2014 and 2015.

The Airport Carbon Accreditation program is aimed at reducing emissions at airports by encouraging efficient heating and lighting technologies, more eco-friendly vehicles like EVs and hybrids, and public transportation, among other tactics.

The plan MSP developed for the second step includes a carbon metric and reduction target (along with the necessary actions and projects to reach that target), and implementation plans to continually reduce emissions, year after year.

The entire process involves four steps, and thus far 27 North American airports have been recognized for attaining accreditation. MSP is one of six that upgraded to the next level of accreditation this year.

Minneapolis is all about going green… and I love it. Our public transportation options are endless, we have bountiful bike paths and a lot of hybrid or electric vehicles on our roads.

It just makes me so happy to know that as airplanes themselves are getting more eco-friendly… so are the hubs that receive and send off those big beautiful beasts.

We’re one step closer to a cleaner, greener world!

Cheers, MSP!

A Bird’s Eye View of a Few Big Birds

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On Tuesday night, I arrived all giddy at MSP Airport. I had a typical “kid in a candy store” expression plastered on my face, but this time it was amplified – my face legitimately hurt from smiling.

I wasn’t going to the dog park or the viewing area or the cemetery or the gold ramp, no… I was going to the Air Traffic Control tower. ATC has ALWAYS fascinated me… one of the first pieces I wrote for Aviation Queen was about the inner workings of air traffic control. And more recently I got to write a piece on the privatization debate for Airways.

Lucky me, one of the many connections I’ve made through Instagram was with an incredibly nice guy named Joe. He works as a controller in the MSP tower, and invited me to shadow him this past Tuesday evening. It was UNREAL. Seriously guys… unreal. Side note: Joe also loves cats – further proof that he’s a good guy.

He told me in advance that he would “put me to work” and I didn’t quite know what that meant. But one of the first things I did upon arrival was plop down in a chair in front of a computer and a machine that was cranking out flight strips. I placed the strips into their holders, went through the flights on the computer to send clearances and then went through them all again to record their gate numbers. Best part? I got to KEEP the strips from the Air France A340 and the Condor 767 – pretty sweet, huh?

We then went over to a different station and worked “ground” – I had a headset on and just listened to Joe interact with the pilots… clearing them for pushback or directing them to their runway for departure or to their gate for arrival. It was boatloads of fun. I wish I was back there right now.

THEN… I had the opportunity to go out on the “catwalk” – a full 360 deck that circles the tower. I got some amazing photos from up there and the view was just stunning. It was fairly close to sunset, so the lighting was beautiful. It was the cat’s meow. See what I did there?

Following my photo session, I got to hang around inside the cab for a bit more before we made our way down to TRACON.

I first learned about TRACON (terminal radar approach control) when I interviewed Jennah Perry earlier this year for my ATC story on Aviation Queen. Jenna is the Program Chair and Assistant Professor of Air Traffic Management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

TRACON is located in the lower level of the MSP tower and looked to me like something out of a movie. It was dark and a little eerie – with a number of computer screens displaying the radar. The screens were divided into 5-mile “rings” of the area surrounding MSP – really bringing to life the whole “invisible highways in the sky” concept.

Joe told me that back in the “old days” the controllers at the top would actually send the flight strips down to TRACON in a contraption similar to those bank tubes that go between the drive-thru lanes and the tellers inside the building. That’d sure be a sight to see, huh?

After the visit down to TRACON, my time was up. Two hours really *flies* by when you’re having fun. Before I knew it, my husband was pulling back into the parking lot to pick me up. I talked his ears off about how much fun I had for no less than two hours straight. It was perfect.

All in all, my visit Tuesday was an exciting, eye-opening experience. As always, I feel incredibly thankful to have been able to meet such a diverse group of aviation enthusiasts through social media… from pilots to mechanics, spotters to photographers, and now even a controller.

So, here’s to you Joe! Thanks for an AWESOME time.

Flying to Pass the Time

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Time really does fly… but come this weekend, you’d think I was flying just to pass the time. Something big, something HUGE, something SO exciting is happening. BUT.. I’m keeping my lips sealed for now. I’ll just tell you this – two days, four states, five flights. That’s all you get for now. You’ll hear more from me Monday or Tuesday.

ANYWAYS… those who know me well, know I stress out pretty easily. But oddly enough, since I’ve started to really hone in on my aviation journalism and photography, I’ve gotten a heck of a lot busier AND a heck of a lot happier. Who’d have thought there’d be a positive correlation between the two? Not me. Not in a million years.

June brought a lot of changes in my life… I hit the big 3-0, we moved from Minneapolis to St. Paul and I lost my dear, sweet stepmom. With that being said, my apologies for being MIA in the blogging world, but I’m sure you can understand why I was.

However, my love of planes helped keep me sane and grounded throughout that time. And, over the last month I’ve hit a couple milestones that were quite exciting for me:

1. On my birthday, June 16, I hit one THOUSAND Instagram followers on @thegreatplanes (currently, I’m creeping up on 1,300 – it’s a good feeling).

2. I’ve had my third and fourth stories published on Airways Magazine’s website, both of which feature several of my own photos (and even one of my husband’s):

Where Planes Go, They Follow: The Rise of Plane Spotting and How Airports Are Embracing Their Biggest Fans

Fight For The Skies: The Air Traffic Control Debate

3. My Instagram friends, @jfkspotting, hit 7,000 followers and in doing so, named my page the ninth best of all those followers. Thanks guys!

4. I found that there is a bus that takes me directly from my new apartment to my favorite spotting location at MSP – the gold parking ramp. I was asked to leave by airport police, which I calmly and apologetically did. BUT, after a few days I didn’t feel quite right about it. I reached out to a contact of mine at the airport who in turn spoke with the police chief who confirmed I CAN be up there. The chief passed the message along to his officers and now I go three to four times a week. Now THAT’S a “great planes” win!

Thank you all for the love and support. To think that six months ago I went out on a whim and just thought I’d “take a shot” at pursuing something that I love… and seeing where I am now – it’s pretty incredible. The things I’m learning, the people I’m meeting, the stories I’m writing and the places I’m going… I’m very thankful and cannot wait to see where this love takes me in the years to come.

To blue skies and tailwinds

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted, and this post will be slightly more personal than past entries.

About two months ago I started a new job with the State of Minnesota AND was brought on as a writer for Airways Magazine – two milestones that were pretty big in and of themselves. However, this week alone has brought about (and will continue to bring about) a number of changes… all important and all very different.

On Sunday, we will officially move into our new loft in downtown St. Paul, something I’ve been looking forward to for months. On Friday, I will turn 30 … boy does that sound old! But … nothing compares to having lost my dear, sweet stepmom Carolyn, who passed away Sunday after a long, courageous battle with cancer. We will honor her and her amazing life and legacy this afternoon at a service here in Nashville, Tenn.

To say that Carolyn touched a lot of lives is an understatement. If you had the pleasure of meeting her, I take comfort in knowing you’ll never forget her, because trust me – you couldn’t.

She was one of the most selfless people I’ve ever known, and if I had to think of one word to describe her personality it would be “sparkly” – her presence could be felt the minute she entered a room… it was almost as though she carried sunshine and happiness in her purse with her everywhere she went. She always seemed to radiate a rainbow of colors.

Carolyn and I certainly disagreed on some things… but that’s just what happens when you grow up in different regions and different eras. But I can honestly say that in the nearly 15 years she was a part of my life, I can’t ever remember us being upset with one another. She made me smile … and she will continue to make me smile for years to come.

Carolyn was aptly nicknamed “GoGo” because she and my dad were always traveling. If they weren’t abroad in Japan or Israel or somewhere in Europe, they were going back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth between their two homes: Nashville and and Indialantic, Fla.

And, she even took her selflessness to a whole new level in opening up her own family practice clinic here in Nashville: Hope Health. She found great pride and joy in her job as a nurse practitioner … showing that even at “work” all she wanted to do was help others.

Those who know me will not be at all surprised by this, but just the other day while sitting on the couch here at my dad and Carolyn’s house in Nashville, I saw a package all sealed up that said “aviator bottle opener” – so I (obviously) tore into it without question, just out of curiosity. 

I asked my dad, “Did you buy this?” and he replied, “No, Carolyn bought that for you … for your birthday.” I’m actually tearing up a bit writing this, but that little bottle opener will hold a special place in my heart forever… she knew me so well.

For those who didn’t get to meet her, I’m so sorry. She was a truly remarkable human being who will be sorely missed, but whose spirit will live on for a long, long time.

I love and miss you Carolyn.

MSP: The Great Airport

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On March 6, Airports Council International (ACI) announced the winners of the 2016 Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards, an award that recognizes airports around the globe, both big and small, that dedicate themselves to delivering an excellent customer experience.

Winners are determined based on customer surveys that are given to roughly 600,000 travelers in 84 countries. The survey covers airport access, check-in, security, restrooms, shopping, and dining.

I should have known right off the bat that my home away from home, Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport (MSP), would have been recognized. I mean… “Minnesota nice,” right?

And lo and behold – they were!

MSP was named Best Airport in North America for its size category (25-40 million passengers per year). A few notable competitors in this size category include Orlando International Airport, Boston’s Logan International Airport, and New York’s LaGuardia International Airport.

In a Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) release, MAC executive director and CEO Brian Ryks said the following:

“Our vision is ‘providing your best airport experience,’ and that is something we can only achieve with the support of the entire Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport community. It is very gratifying to know our customers recognize the tremendous efforts made each day by so many, and our focus to provide a personal touch in order to exceed travelers’ expectations.”

While I don’t get to frequent the airport as much as I’d like to (no, plane spotting doesn’t count), I completely understand why MSP was recognized. I’ve never encountered awfully long lines in security, and I always know that I’ll find something great to eat or a good store to kill some time in if I find myself overly early for my flight.

And again, there’s the “Minnesota nice” factor… the airport is chock-full of kind, helpful employees… from the check-in counter, to the coffee shop, to the gate.

MSP is Delta Air Line’s second largest hub, and is served by 14 airlines, offering service to 155 destinations. More than 37.5 million passengers flew through MSP in 2016.

So here’s to you, MSP. You done good!

View more ASQ award recipients on the ACI website.