Thursday, May 6, 2010

It’s not the easy times that define us.

My friend Sandy was in New York last week for a half-marathon. It was 55- degrees and raining in Central Park as throngs of women gathered at the starting line. Acknowledging the horrible weather, the emcee said, “It’s not the easy times that define us.” Sandy spent the next 13.1 miles mulling over those words. I’ve been pondering them too. How do we handle adversity? And are we comfortable being defined by the composure (or lack thereof) we display during those difficult times.

Coincidentally, this comes on the heels of a Livingston Productions project that’s all about people who overcome adversity and like it or not, become defined by it. For the past seven years, I’ve had the honor of producing the patient stories for the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, arguably the greatest trauma hospital in the world. For months at a time, I am immersed in the courageous battle of these patients and of the heroes who save them. Their triumph over adversity is such an inspiration. I am grateful to get to know these people and thankful to live in a state with such a great trauma and EMS system.

It’s not the easy times that define us. Nor them.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Good Read

Congratulations on finding time to read this. I’m not being sarcastic. Since most of my friends are working mothers, I know “down time” is as rare as a client meeting a deadline, so I thank you for choosing my Livingston Productions blog to fill the next two minutes.

Speaking of working mothers, there’s a new book you may want to pick up. It’s called, Just Let Me Lie Down by Kristin van Ogtrop. Kristin is the editor-in-chief of Real Simple Magazine and she has built that brand into a gold mine. I am a real fan of her magazine and website, and proud to say “I knew her when.” Kristin grew up across the street from me on Kenyon Lane and the scar on my chin came from her slate front steps. I also remember distinctively her younger sister’s First Holy Communion where a family member stood too close to the candles and their hair started to burn. That’s a smell you never forget.

Anyway, Kristin is a skilled and thoughtful writer who chooses her words wisely, a valuable trait for an editor. Best of all, she is brutally funny. She writes about life, her life, but really our lives: kids, job, husband, fixer-upper house, pets, classroom parties, science projects, mid-life crises. It all plays out against a backdrop most of us can only dream of: the corner office in a swanky NYC office, the Today Show appearances, and celebrity lunches.

If you’re looking for a good book to read, pick it up and then share it with a friend.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I am blessed to work with an extremely talented group of artists. While I may be the Livingston of Livingston Productions, without them, there would be no Productions-- ever!

Neil Beller of Kit and Kaboodle Productions is so much more than a Senior Editor; he is a creative genius whose daily trips to the “dark side” transport even the most mundane project into a work of art. Neil worked in Hollywood, but returned to Maryland because he put “Family First”. Sound familiar?

Another great family husband and father, Jim Harris, of Nimble Media is my director of photography, gadget guru and coffee companion. Jim has been known to use his GPS to make sure I’m properly caffeinated at all times. They both inspire me to be better with every project, every day.

But I can’t wax inspiration without mentioning Sandy Pagnotti. (Center with pink boa-- that's me with the blue hair!)

Sandy not only got my foot in the door of the freelancing world—she shoved me right through it. As VP at Feats, Inc., a well-known experience marketing agency, Sandy produces some of the biggest events in the country (and outside the country) and she knows everybody who’s anybody. It was Sandy who called me so many years ago and said she had a client who wanted a very poignant story to be told—and I was the gal to tell it. Sandy’s barometer of what is good is similar to mine: if it makes you cry, laugh out loud, get goose bumps and jump to your feet in ovation, it’s ok. Sandy thought I was more than ok. And I am so grateful.

Sandy also inspired me in my other job. Several years ago, Sandy was doing the Iron Girl triathlon (she’s done it several times since) and she thought I should do it with her. Scared to death to swim in open water, I politely declined, but she would not back down. She told me I had to do something that tested me, something that gave me butterflies. Because of that challenge, I became a certified fitness instructor. I share my passion for fitness by instructing 5 classes a week at two different clubs within the Brick Bodies Fitness chain. I like to think I inspire a few folks, just like Sandy inspired me.

It’s because of Sandy that I was stuffing Easter baskets today for children at INNterim houses, safe havens for abused women and children to stay while the moms are gaining job training skills and working towards independence.

Sandy organizes a “few good eggs” every year to stuff the baskets so these kids will have a nice surprise on Easter morning. We’re not talking 5 or 10 baskets. Sandy’s “Bunny Brigade” has delivered some 1200 baskets over ten years. Our community is better off because of Sandy.

Webster defines "inspiration": a divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul. Who or what inspires you?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What do I want to be when I grow up?

From a young age, I dreamed of being on Broadway. My sister, Cindy got me involved in Community Theater and it became a passion. I studied voice with Frances Haut, a legend at Curtis Conservatory, and studied dance under Susan Stroman, now a Broadway legend! But by senior year in high school my desire to be an actress was dampened by an overwhelming fear of failure. Sure I got rave reviews for my dozens of performances in the Wilmington, Delaware area, but I never had the courage to find out if that talent could translate to the Great White Way. I chose what I thought was a more stable profession. Broadcast Journalism.

Now critics of television news will say there is as much theatrics in broadcasting as on Broadway, but that’s a different story. Boston University’s School of Public Communication turned out to be more like a trade school, and I had my first job at WBZ-TV by December of my senior year. I hop scotched from Boston to Providence to Salisbury (where I met Scott) to Louisville (where I married Scott) and finally to Baltimore in 1990 (where we later started our family).

Had I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up? Not really. After Brittany was born in 1993 and Calvin in 1996, I continued to work in a grueling profession that had little regard for putting family first. I had wonderful childcare in my home, but I missed most of the day with my kids. My defining moment came in 1997, I interviewed a woman whose teenage son had committed suicide. Her name is Susan White Bowden and her story is well publicized. A TV anchor in Washington, DC, Susan thought her children were fine. Somewhere amid her hectic schedule and long commute, she missed all the warning signs. She had no idea her son was suffering until she got that horrible call at work saying he had taken his life with the antique rifle that was displayed over their mantle. Interviewing her changed my life. I got back to the station, called Scott and told him I was quitting my job. I could no longer be away from our little kids for so many hours a day. He supported me 100%.

I am blessed. We could have survived on one income if we had to. But I was able to translate my years of news producing into a lucrative freelancing career where I could pick and choose specific projects that fit my family’s needs. Livingston Productions was born a few years later. And thanks to wonderfully supportive clients and amazingly talented partners, we keep growing.

My “family first” mantra is challenged now and then, especially when deadlines loom and I spend more hours in front of a computer monitor than in my family room. But I finally know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be there for my family.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

As a writer, video producer and owner of

Livingston Productions, I strive to tell stories that get the viewer involved, make them feel something, and sometimes prompt them to act. On this Palm Sunday, our 17-year old daughter Brittany is teaching me a lesson about emotional stories that compel people to act.

Brittany left at 2am this morning on a mission of presence to El Salvador. The tiny mountaintop village where she’ll stay has no running water and one paved road. It is named in honor of Father Ignacio Ellacuria, a Jesuit priest who was murdered by the El Salvador death squads in 1989 because he stood up for his rights. Her mission over this Holy Week will be to listen to the stories of the residents of Ignacio Ellacuria who have been ravaged by civil war, play with the children orphaned by the violence and then work with the community to make improvements for next year. As one of three juniors chosen for this year’s delegation, Brittany has the honor of returning next year. Past delegations from Notre Dame Prep have worked to build a youth center and a church and upgrade the elementary school. The girls at NDP raise funds all year long for improvements and for scholarship money to send local students to high school. They bring with them about 500 pounds of clothes, medicine and school supplies that they’ve collected. They sleep on the floor of a daycare center. They eat meals of beans and rice served on plates borrowed from villagers. The one bath she’ll get this week is on Wednesday in a river where she’ll take the kids swimming. Did I mention she has been looking forward to this since freshman year?

Britt and her NDP sisters will be greeted by cheering children of Ignacio Ellacurio. To them, this Easter pilgrimage is our equivalent of Christmas. But it is in giving that the girls receive. Britt will return with nothing in her backpack, but her heart will be overflowing. This is our daughter’s choice for Spring Break 2010.

Strange, isn’t it that it’s so easy for me to tell you how proud I am of Brittany and the good work she’s doing, but I wonder if I told her? Among the reminders about mosquito repellant (malaria), Cipro (parasites), sunscreen (Equator), and camera (yearbook editor), did I tell her that she is remarkable? Did I say that she is doing God’s work? Did I say that I’ll miss her every second she’s gone? No, I’m sure I didn’t. It was 2am and hope that I love you said it all.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Brave New World

My apologies to Aldous Huxley; I'm referring to the brave new world of blogging. In a way, this is a return to my past. A journalist by trade, a journal-writer by experience, I've always found it cathartic to write. Wonder where those notebooks full of musings are now?

Whether it's the to-do lists that I make for myself (and my husband) or the vid
eos I create for my clie
nts, I'm always writing something. For 20+ years, I cranked out news stories for local TV. I prided myself on being fast, accurate and on occasion, creative. More than a few years ago, I left local news to create my own production business. I am blessed to do what I do. I occasionally miss the excitement of a huge news day, but I live vicariously through Scott who holds the reigns at the Fox affiliate in Baltimore. The bulk of my work is for corporate, medical and academic clients who want to impress, inform and inspire their employees/clients/sponsors. Not coincidentally, the Livingston Productions tag line is impress, inform, inspire.

A perfect example is the project I'm doing now for the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, arguably the best trauma hospital in the world. Every year, for the past seven, I've been hired to tell the amazing stories of two patients saved over the previous year. These are people who have been to the brink of death and have fought their way back. Miracles, yes! These patients and their families share what is undoubtedly the worst experience of their lives-- and they do it because they are so grateful for the dozens if not hundreds of people responsible for their recovery.

Kayla and Devon are the two patients I'm profiling this year. Both teenagers at the time of their injuries, they are each doing remarkably well. Kayla suffered three cardiac arrests and anoxic brain injury after a terrible car crash in January 2009.

Waking up from a brain injury is not like it is in the movies. It isn't pretty; it isn't quick. When those 5 billion cells in your brain decide to wake up, they are a bit confused to say the least! Her parents never gave up hope and they attribute her recovery to the amazing care she got and the multitude of prayers that were said for her. Amen to that!

Devon's story is equally amazing. At age 15, he was hunting with his family when a cousin accidentally shot him through the abdomen with a 30.06 at close range. That's a gun designed to kill a deer instantly. Devon did not die. In fact, he remained conscious, yelled for 911 and packed his own wounds with dish towels until help arrived. Thanks to the amazing Maryland EMS and trauma system, Devon made it to definitive care in time to stop the bleeding and save his life. Six months and 11 surgeries later, Devon is without a kidney, spleen, part of a pancreas and 75% of his stomach, but he has regained ALL OF HIS FUNCTION!

I am humbled by the amazing work of the firefighters, paramedics, flight medics, helicopter pilots, doctors, nurses, therapists and everyone else who has a hand in saving lives. They are the most committed people I have ever met and it's an honor to tell their stories.

Kayla and Devon and their heroes will be honored at the Shock Trauma Gala on April 24.
Stay tuned...