Daymaker - a person who performs acts of kindness with the intention of making the world a better place.
~ David Wagner
, author of Life as a Daymaker; how to change the world by making someone's day ~

DayMaker - any thought, word, or deed that spreads happiness, compassion, or fruitful ideas.
~ Annis Cassells ~

Monday, May 27, 2019

Gathering Personal Information

Photo courtesy of

This is a companion to the previous blog, "The Do-it-Yourself Obituary." As mentioned in that post, this is an instrument for setting down a person's life information. I adapted it from the source cited below for use with my memoir writing classes, but have used it a number of times when helping friends write their or their loved ones' obituaries. Either way, whether writing your memoirs or family stories, or obituaries, my hope is that you'll find it useful.


~ xoA ~ 

Gathering Personal Information

Use these categories as a guide to gather information for writing your life stories or your life review. You can put the information on separate sheets of paper in a notebook or on 5x8 cards so you have space to add things as you think of them. I’ve also used this form when helping friends write obituaries.

Given name: first, middle, last; if you were named after someone, who? any story about how you got your name or who named you.

Birth: place, date, parents’ full names, including your mother’s maiden name; any unusual circumstances surrounding your birth, getting to the hospital; where delivered and by whom

Siblings: their names, birth dates, marriages, deaths, and names of children. Reminders of stories about your siblings (i.e. the time Susie kissed the hot pie; the time Jerry broke his arm)

Education: grade school, high school, college(s), other institutions or specialized training

Marriages, deaths, divorces: include dates, names, and places

Children: full names and nicknames, dates, where born, marriages and names of their spouses(s) and children. Reminders of stories about your children (i.e. Allie’s first bath; when we brought home the baby brother)

Work history and positions held: Make a timeline of all the places you worked

Military experience: what branch, rank, job, where served

Major geographic moves: List dates and places you lived over the years

Unusual experiences: your personal involvement in anything out of the ordinary, could be life-threatening or harrowing in some way (i.e. robbery victim, accident, caught in a hurricane) or could be something wonderful (i.e. winning a contest, appearing on a TV show)

Organizations you belonged to and positions held: clubs, service organizations, professional organizations

Religious affiliation, membership, activities, and organizations

Volunteer activities throughout life

Travel, special vacations

Awards, honors, professional accomplishments

Famous people in your life

Close friends: childhood, college/early work days, in organizations, later years

Life achievements: official and unofficial


Special skills, interests, hobbies

Foreign language skills

Main character traits: Take this one seriously, and do not be bashful. Think about the legacy you would like to leave behind. List your character traits and give examples

Life challenges: What did you have to overcome, and how did you do it? How you dealt with adversity can be a model for someone else.

Banners and bandwagons: What values did you hold high?

Political views

Add any other information you’d like to this list

            Favorite Sayings

Adapted from Katie Funk Wiebe in How to Write Your Personal or Family History, 2009.

The Do-it-Yourself Obituary

Shore Acres bloom

I’m revising my obituary. That’s right—revising my obituary. I wrote it several years ago after a friend died before she could get hers written. Now it’s time for an update. A lot has happened in those intervening years, and some of it I want noted when I’m gone. It’s also a gift I can give my family to relieve them of that burden during an emotional time.

And, you don’t have to wait until you’ve reached “geezer-hood” to do this. Start your obituary while you’re younger and feeling healthy. Then re-visit it every five years to update or revise the focus areas. Events that were of great importance in your 30s or 40s may fade from prominence by the time you’re in your 60s.

Why write your own obituary?
Well, for starters, no one knows you better than you. And you can decide to include—or leave out—whatever you want. Those important things like name of your high school, the subject you excelled in, the specialized job you did, your passions and hobbies throughout your life. You’re the one who best knows and remembers.

Your prewritten obituary relieves some of the stress for loved ones who are already upset. Your spouse, children, or life partner don’t have to go looking for information, make decisions, or sit down at this difficult time and try to compose an inclusive obituary that represents the life you’ve lived.

I’ve interviewed friends to help them write their obituaries. Merely gathering their information in one document led them on a life-review journey, causing them to recall and relive incidents and tell stories about their lives. Whether they wrote out the obituary themselves or not, everything their family needed was close at hand and accessible when the time came.

The interview questionnaire, “Gathering Personal Information,” is one I adapted when teaching memoir writing classes. It was originally developed for helping folks begin to set down information they could use when writing their life stories. I’ve found it works well for both purposes.

If you would like to see the information-gathering questionnaire I use, shortly after posting this one, I’ll be putting up a separate blog of the entire document.

This month I’ve lost two dear people: one, a beloved, long-time colleague and friend, and the other, a childhood best buddy since fourth grade. These kinds of losses bring our own mortality close to home and demand thought and introspection as well as consideration of those left behind. Plus, our families will be grateful we did it.

With hugs to you this Memorial Day,

~ xoA ~

Friday, April 12, 2019

Children's Literature -- Not Only for Kids

This week, Jeopardy fans watched while Las Vegas resident James Holzhauer broke the record for single-day cash winnings. While the newspaper article I read was all about his big earnings, as a writer, the nugget that jumped out at me was this:

Holzhauer claimed his secret weapon for learning information was children’s books. “They are chock-full of infographics, pictures and all kinds of stuff to keep the reader engaged.”

Such a great lead-in for the review of a children’s book I’ve wanted to share on The DayMaker. So here you go. Meet Sallie in her story told by a children’s author and a fellow member of Writers of Kern.

*     *     *     *     *

What’s better than a dog story? A true dog story steeped in historical context.

Allison Crotzer Kimmel’s picture book, The Eternal Soldier; the true story of how a dog became a Civil War hero, celebrates the loyalty, bravery, and devotion of Sallie, the pup who becomes a mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Through Kimmel’s endearing story and Rotem Teplow’s colorful, detailed illustrations, we learn how Sallie, in turn, brings out the soldiers’ kindness and humanity in the face of devastating times on the battlefields.

Sallie, a four-week-old pup, is brought to the volunteer infantry in a basket. The men take to her immediately, and she to them. She immerses in camp life, marching beside the soldiers in drills, responding to bugle calls, and boosting morale. Soon Sallie was marching into battle and standing her ground with the flag bearer who raised “the colors.”

After the long, difficult battle at Gettysburg, Sallie guarded and comforted the fallen men, remaining by their sides until help came and all the men were taken care of. Two years later, at the battle at Hatcher’s Run, Virginia, Sallie herself is hit by enemy fire. Her men never forget her, and twenty-five years later a monument that included a bronze statue of Sallie was erected and dedicated to the soldiers of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

Allison Crotzer Kimmel tells Sallie’s story with heartfelt compassion and the accuracy that diligent research brings. The Author’s Note provides historical names and places of Civil War battles, information about military rituals and traditions, a glimpse of Sallie’s time with the 11th, and excellent resources for exploring more of Sallie’s life.

I highly recommend Kimmel’s The Eternal Soldier, published by little bee books, for youngsters eight years of age and older and their parents. With its educational value, positive message and role models, and its accurate, but un-sensationalized, depiction of the battlefield, this book is an essential addition to home and library collections.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Remembering Dad

Thomas Cassells with his grandchildren Amina and Asila, circa 1971

The significance of yesterday’s date, March 14, didn’t register with me until mid-morning, when I wrote it on the sign-in sheet at the writing workshop I’d be conducting at the Art & Spirituality Center in Bakersfield.

Then it struck me: it was the 47th anniversary of my father’s death. I stopped and drew in a breath, saw Dad’s face, and thanked The Universe for having had him.

I haven’t written a lot about Dad. But that doesn’t mean I don’t carry him with me every day. At certain times, I see him in the mirror. And I know I hold many of his values and qualities in my behavior and in my heart, like curiosity and reverence for knowledge.

Born in the early part of the 20th century, Dad’s eighth-grade education was typical in rural Ohio. He often told us kids, “Your mom is the educated one in the family. She finished high school.” But he educated himself in adulthood. In the late 1950s, he came into Islam and studied the Koran and Arabic. He read about the power of positive thinking, studied yoga, meditation, and the healing properties of herbal remedies.

As youngsters, we three kids cringed over his vegetable juicing and distasteful concoctions. One memory that stands out is of us, if we needed to cough, burying our faces in the coats in the front hall closet so he wouldn’t hear us and prescribe the cough medicine he’d made.

Dad’s interest in yoga led him to teach classes in the evening recreation program at our local elementary school in Detroit. My brother Thomas and I were out of the house by then, but Dad would practice at home and get my sister ReeniĆ©, who was a young teen, to try the postures, too.

Circa 1945
Saturday nights, their kitchen filled with smells of Mama’s lentil soup and the sounds of a group of young neighborhood men holding profound conversations around our table. For several years, as they lapped up Dad’s wisdom and mentoring along with Mama’s soup, these men became like brothers, and we all felt a deep loss at Dad’s death.

He left us way, too soon—I wasn’t yet thirty when Dad died. But he left us with lots of memories of him, his favorite phrases, and his corny jokes. And, a legacy of love, honesty, pride, and determination—exactly what we’d need to become successful adults.

~ xoA ~