The Story Behind The Story Life in the Neck new Friends

Twenty-six years teaching elementary students, most of that time with first graders, found me ready for a change.  I moved on to college seniors eager to take on their student teaching experience just before graduation.  As their supervisor, I became the liaison between the students, their placement schools, and the college.  Surprisingly the shift in the age of my patrons did not make a huge difference.  Both did not listen the first time, both did not follow directions, and both discovered they needed me more than they thought.  However, I was no longer tying shoes or zipping zippers.

“The important things in life always happened by accident . . . And then, out of the black beyond, like a hawk on a rat, some nameless catastrophe would swoop into your life and turn everything upside down and inside out forever.” (The Smoke Jumper by Nicholas Evans)  My catastrophe came with a name – breast cancer.  It too swooped into my life and turned everything upside down and inside out.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 70’s when I was a brand new bride and just getting started on my teaching career.  Thirty-four years later, here I was hearing the same diagnosis.  In an effort to get my head around the breast cancer journey that I was walking, I started a journal.  I told my family and friends many times that I knew where I was and I knew where I wanted to be, and the only way to get there was straight through the middle of this medical challenge.  The daily writing helped me to do just that.  It helped me to describe what was happening and what I was experiencing and at the same time give voice to my feelings about those very things.

Having made it past my own use by date, I gave my journal to my daughter so that if or when her own breast cancer diagnosis came along, she would have my words to guide her.  “Mom, this is way too good to leave in the drawer.  We need to work on getting this published!”  And so as they say, “the rest is history”. 

I self-published with DeForest Press out of Elk River, Minnesota, From There to Here a breast cancer journey by Diane Davies.  After twelve years of survivorship, I reflected again on the life lessons learned with the enhanced awareness that only time can provide and published Breast Cancer Saved My Life.  I was fortunate to have as my writing coach, Beverly Vote of Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine.  She provided training and encouragement to get that second book out there.

My family has been so fortunate for years to make our home in the valley of the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin.  We live on the Minnesota side overlooking the Kinnickinnic sandbar created by the mouth of the river of the same name dumping into the larger St. Croix.  My husband’s great-grandfather purchased the land in 1854 before Minnesota became a state.  His grandmother always called the narrow strip of land along the river the neck.  The neck is where both our home and my daughter and her family home are located – next door to each other.

In 2007 my first grandchild was born, Elsie, and five years later Ely came along.  Who could ask for more with my grand babies living right next door.  To this day, I’m not sure they really understand that we have two different houses.  It is just all home for them. 

One of my favorite activities is to walk along the flat part of our driveway.  Living in the country with about forty acres, our driveway is probably a half mile long or better.  I say the flat part because the first part is all hill!  And I mean Hill with a capital H.  Once I survive the climb, after stopping for a couple breathers, the flat is easy and oh so beautiful.  The drive is bordered on the west with forest, then field (usually corn or soy beans), then trees again, grass, and finally blacktop.  On the east is the river, then forest, then field (usually corn or soy beans), then grass, followed by a strip of huge pine trees that I remember helping to plant when I first moved here with my husband, more grass, and finally the blacktop.  The drive runs north and south and ends with a curve to the right and then left down the hill ending in front of our garage.  We are blessed to have white tail deer, rabbits, chipmunks, field mice, skunks, coyotes, fox, raccoons, muskrats, squirrels of all shapes and sizes, you name it living in our forest.  A few years ago we were even visited by a black bear which is rare indeed.  Our feathered neighbors are bald eagles, hawks, Canada geese, all kinds of ducks, swans, loons occasionally, and now and then we spot a golden eagle as well as most all of the backyard birds found in Minnesota. 

As a first grade teacher, I have read thousands of books to hundreds of children.  Now as a grandmother, I have read hundreds of books to two grandchildren.  My favorite room in my house is my library housing also hundreds of books for both adults and children alike.  And on my bucket list is an entry that says “read my own stories to children”.  Walking along the neck in the early morning my mind makes up stories about the animals I see.  It is comparable to my head opening up like a funnel and ideas pour in.  So the name Life in the Neck dropped in one day and along came Delaney the deer, Rocket the rabbit, Cardinal Red and of course Old Coyote who make up the characters in Life in the Neck New Friends. 

Now with two children’s books, Life in the Neck New Friends and Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer, under my belt, I’m an author visiting schools and reading my own stories to children.  That’s one big check off of my bucket list for me.  Oh yes, and by the way, book number three, Life in the Neck Squirrel Trouble, will be coming out in the summer of 2019.  Who knows how many more will follow?

Calling All Book Lovers

Davies To Have Book Signing at LA Times Festival of Books

LA Times Festival of Books on the USC campus in Los Angles is the next stop for award winning Minnesota author Diane Davies and her children’s books.  ReadersMagnet will be hosting Davies for a book signing from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 13 as part of the event.

Since 1996, The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books has become a world renowned experience gathering writers, poets, artists, filmmakers, musicians and emerging storytellers like no other. Today over 150,000 people attend, making it the largest festival of its kind in the United States. 

Davies invitation to the Festival came through ReadersMagnet, a team of self-publishing and digital marketing experts that exist to assist aspiring and veteran authors in fulfilling their dreams.  LA Times Festival of Books will take place on April 13 & 14, 2019 on the campus of the University of Southern California.

Life in the Neck New Friends by Davies & Sikorsikia and Davies newest book Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer illustrated by CA Nobens will both be traveling to Los Angeles. 

Life in the Neck New Friends introduces you to Delaney the fawn, Rocket the rabbit, Cardinal Red and Old Coyote.  These four will learn about friendship, cooperation and the busy world around them.  When danger threatens the neck, will their bond be strong enough to beat it?

Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer is told by Jeannie Ann a typical six-year-old who happens to have a grandmother newly diagnosed with breast cancer.  The fears, questions, emotions and misunderstandings of a child dealing with a loved one with cancer are explained in terms a child can understand.  Tumors, mastectomies, chemotherapy, pain, and loss are discussed within the story as well as hope for the future.

Davies has been able to gift over 1000 copies of Jeannie Ann’s story to breast cancer care centers in the state of Minnesota through the help of corporate sponsors, friends and neighbors making a difference in the lives of children facing a cancer diagnosis of someone they love.

What do you say to someone who is Dying?

February 25, 2019

The Winter 2019 issue of Breast Cancer Wellness magazine contained an article written by Rev. Patrick Riecke entitled “When There Are No Magic Words”.  His assertion is “that we kind of stink at helping people who are dying”.  Rev. Riecke does not leave us at this point, but as a gentle teacher would, goes on to suggest five things a dying person probably needs to hear.

  • “I’m here now.”

They need you to be present. Be. Here. Now.

  • “Beating the (whatever the challenge) isn’t the only way to win.”

Feel better – Get well soon – does not fit. 

  • “Yes I will.”

Don’t talk like that – You’re going to beat this –  Doesn’t always fit the situation.

  • “You are still you.”

Continue to treat the person as you always would. 

  • “What do you want to do?”

It gives the dying person power, choices, respect, opportunity and helps them find meaning.

A few years ago a good friend of mine was dying of pancreatic cancer.  It seemed as her time came closer, we became closer.  I stopped being the cheerleader and began to listen more closely to her wants and needs.  When I did that, she began to trust me more and was able to share her thoughts and ideas more easily.  One day very near the end she asked me, “How do I die?  I’ve been trying but I don’t know what to do to make it happen?”  I assured her that her body would know what to do.  We talked about how we didn’t know how to birth a baby and yet it happened as our body just took over when it was time and how dying would most likely be the same.  She then relaxed and in a few days her body took over and she left us.

Rev. Patrick Riecke has written a book entitled; How do Talk with Sick, Dying, and Grieving People, When There are No Magic Words to Say.

Back to School for Life in the Neck New Friends

February 22, 2019

It was back to school this morning for Life in the Neck and myself.  Thank goodness there was no new snow to contend with here in Minnesota. 

Friendly Hills Middle School in Mendota Heights hosted a community read during homeroom.  What is a community read?  People from the surrounding community, doctors, lawyers, football players and other sports enthusiasts, authors, police officers, dental assistants, construction workers, grocery store owners, you name it are invited in to read a book to a classroom. One room had the teacher’s fiancé as their guest reader.  One community reader for each classroom.  And each guest gets too choose what book they will read.  Now keep in mind that homeroom is about twenty minutes so no reading of War and Peace or any such title.

Off I went to a fifth grade classroom to read Life in the Neck New Friends.  The guarded looks I received as I entered soon turned to smiles as I began to read Delaney’s story and have some fun with my audience.  It is an unwritten rule somewhere that a middle school student should never show an adult that they are actually enjoying something.  That’s just not cool or whatever the word is today.  However, before I finished the story, there were hands up wanting to tell me about animals in their own backyards.  Many even stopped to thank me for reading as they left the room headed to their first hour class.  I call that success!

My time at the Middle School was not over yet.  My next stop was the DCD room.  As a retired teacher of a number of years, I had to look up just what DCD stood for. It is developmental coordination disorder which is a chronic neurological condition.  Whatever, the students and I had a great time.  We connected! 

Life in the Neck New Friends was the book that the students were reading for another literacy activity within the school called “Battle of the Books”.  I was honored to have had my book chosen to be read by this group of students.  They knew the story which only added to the fun of my visit.  We had time to play a game that I call “Name That Character”.  I read a sentence or two animal description and they had to tell me who I was talking about.  For example:  his big ears and great hearing kept him out of danger most of the time.  That would be Rocket the rabbit of course!  I did not and could not stump them.

One of the young ladies asked, “What was your inspiration for writing the story?”  She blew her teachers away with the question.  Before leaving they asked me to sign a copy of the book to leave in their classroom.  What a magnificent tribute to a remarkable morning. 

Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer Book Launch

February 19, 2019

The sun was shining on Regina Senior Living Chapel Lobby as members of the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group continued preparations for the book launch party to begin at 3:00.  The coffee was brewing, lemonade and water on ice, and bars and cookies displayed beautifully on trays.  The books were on exhibit – so it was ready, set go . . .

Residents from the center along with their caregivers were the first to arrive.  I’m happy that we could provide for them a change in their normal routine.  I read Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer to the group gathered with oos and ahs and even a tear or two.  The story was well received as people just passing through even stopped in to listen. Some stayed for coffee and a chat as well.

As the afternoon progressed more friends and family stopped in.  The lobby lent itself well to cozy little group readings that happened several times in all.  The moments flew by and too soon 6:00 came around and clean-up began.  Another event in the memory book.

Thanks to all who came to help launch Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer.  Special thanks to the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group for hosting the party.  A big shout out to Ames Construction of Apple Valley, Vermillion State Bank of Vermillion, and the many friends and neighbors who gave to Jeannie Ann’s Go Fund Me Account for helping me gift this book to cancer care centers throughout the state of Minnesota.  To date nearly 1000 books have been given that will positively enhance the breast cancer journey of patients with children of any age.  Jeannie Ann tells her story in a straight forward honest and loving way that is a role model for youth facing a breast cancer diagnosis of a loved one.

youth dealing with a cancer diagnosis in their family.

Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer by Davies and Nobens can be found at www.dianedavies.com , Amazon and Barnes & Nobel.

What a Blessing to live in the Neck!

What a blessing to live in the neck! Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sunday morning in the neck.

Angel Foundation Winter Retreat

February 16, 2019

Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer by Davies and Nobens took me today to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul to attend the winter retreat of the Angel Foundation.  Angel Foundation is a Twin Cities-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to provide support to local adults with cancer and their families. For more than fifteen years, their programs have helped families facing cancer find more everyday moments of joy.

The JOY was evident today in the faces of the families attending as well as the organizers and volunteers.  What an awesome way to spend a Saturday morning and part of the afternoon on a cold winter day in February! 

The Winter Retreat is part of the Facing Cancer Together program which gives parents and caregivers the tools they need to parent through cancer. Kid-friendly activities provide education, emotional support and social experiences for the entire family.

My part today was to share Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer with the young children, preteens and teens.  Kids at whatever age are a resilient group able to grow, adjust, and deal with the stuff life throws at them.   Today’s group of twenty some kids all shared the defining attribute that a loved one in their life was facing cancer.  The love, understanding, respect and strength that I experienced within this group was truly inspiring to me.  The lessons that I learned today were many;

  • As I began reading Jeannie Ann’s story, a young boy about 6 raised his hand.  He wanted me to know that his mother had breast cancer like in the story. He started out by saying, “My Mom has . . . “.  His head went down to the table and his older sister finished the sentence for him.  The youngest participant was the first to respond leading the way for his cohorts.  I was thrilled.
  • After completing the story, I asked the students to interact by drawing, writing, pantomime, comparing Jeannie Ann’s story to their own story.  A 6th grade young man picked up a pencil and wrote totally undisturbed by anything happening around him.  He later shared his Mom’s tribute.  (I only share a portion.) “My Mom and I joked and called it her baseball baby and we laughed hard but in a week it wasn’t funny anymore.”
  • “Hey wait, I didn’t get to share mine yet!”  “I want to share mine too.”  Two members of the group were finishing up when time ran out.  The group just automatically stopped moving and respectfully listened to the last two share their responses.  I was amazed!
  • I’d ask a question of the older group expecting to hear who in their family was dealing with cancer.  The first young man told us his mother had breast cancer and continued on to tell us about how he had to learn to be more patient with her angry outbursts.  Following suite, one of the girls added that she began to appreciate the little things that bring joy and happiness. 
  •  A lovely young gal choose to sit with her back to me as I read the story.  She didn’t want to share when the opportunity to do so came up.  Yet she was the first to step up to have me sign her copy of Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer.

All of this and more in two back to back half hour sessions.  It truly was an amazing opportunity that I was honored to have come my way.  Thank you Angel Foundation.  I’m a fan of what you are doing for cancer patients and their families.

A Huge Hug

February 15, 2019

Jeannie Ann and Grandma are all set for the Book Launch Party for Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer by Davies and Nobens. The big event will take place on Tuesday, February 19 at the Regina Senior Living Chapel Lobby on Nininger Road in Hastings. Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group is hosting the party with festivities starting at 3:00 and ending at 6:00. Comments and a book reading by Diane Davies will happen at 4:00 with cookies, coffee, book sales and author signing taking place throughout the event. Everyone is welcome. Stop in and take your picture with Grandma and Jeannie Ann. Hope to see you there.

A Huge Hug

Life in the Neck New Friends

Life in the Neck New Friends will be at the LA Times Festival of Books on April 13 & 14 making more “new friends”. What is a neck?  The dictionary defines it as a long narrow strip of land along a river.  Great Grandma Davies always called it our driveway! 

The neck is filled with snow this winter. Minnesota, near the Twin Cities, has had 16+ inches . The animals have a hard time trying to find enough food to keep them warm and alive with snow this deep.  My husband and son-in-law have filled an antique farm wagon with ears of corn to feed our wild friends.  Birds, deer, squirrels and turkeys take advantage of the free lunch.  We have a coyote hanging around waiting for a hand out.

The neck is a beautiful place to live whatever the season. For that reason, it works perfectly as the setting for my Life in the Neck series of children’s books.  Introducing school children to the Minnesota animals that make their home in the neck has become my dream vocation. As a retired first grade teacher, I ‘ve read thousands of books to hundreds of children.  My dream has been to read my own books to children.  I’m doing just that!  What more could I ask for?