By Norris Burkes and Sara Brakhane Nov 26, 2023

During the 22 years of writing this column, my favorite part is connecting with readers through personal visits, speaking tours, letters, and emails.

This year I’ve been to a half dozen venues where I employ something I call my “Phil Donahue schtick.” With permission of my host, I begin my “pre-show” – roaming the floor with my microphone asking the arriving guests what they want to know about the column.

While I think I’ve shared my entire life in this column, I still hear you say that I’ve left a few questions unanswered. So, this week, I ask that you’ll allow me a moment of shameless self-promotion to tie up the loose ends from past columns.

To start with, some audience members are surprised to find out that I don’t live locally, because you’ve seen me locally.

While I may not live nearby, I’ve likely spoken in your town.

For instance, I’ve stretched my Baptist roots to share with Florida churches of multiple denominations on Melbourne’s Space Coast and then crossed the state to speak in Lakeland as well as the Southwest coast in Ft Myers.

My age difference before a college audience makes me a bit nervous, but I met the challenge as I delivered seasoned inspiration in Springfield, MO, Staunton VA, Charleston SC, and Riverside CA.

In between my New York speaking gigs in Binghamton, Elmira, and Horseheads I’ve explored Watkins Glen, the Finger Lakes and the thrilling waterfalls of Letchworth. Yet, it was speaking amongst the pine trees of Mountain Home AR that reminded me most of home.

If you’re reading in places where I’ve not yet shared, like Lafayette IN, Montgomery AL or in the California cities of Vacaville, Elk Grove, and Auburn, I would love to make an appearance there too.

In all these places, long-time readers ask me about the aftermath of our downsizing moment in 2017 when we sold our home to live internationally. The short answer is we had a great time in Belgium, England, and Canada.

The three months we spent sharing my daughter, Sara’s 2-bedroom apartment in Honduras, marked the longest continuous period we’d spent with her since she left for college graduation.

Perhaps it was that stint that made us return and settle in our current home in the foothills of Northern California. Who knew Sara’s spare bedroom could double as a crash pad for our midlife crisis intervention?

Secondly, I’m most often asked about Honduras, where Sara founded Chispa Project to establish children’s libraries.  It started off with just a motorcycle and a backpack of books – one of which my wife so bravely rode all those years ago.

Since then, Chispa has distributed over 57,000 books, yet it continues to operate at the grassroots level with support from Honduran and international volunteers who sustain their programs. Thank you to the readers who have sent hundreds of donations through the years, and especially to those who have joined us on a volunteer trip to install libraries.

With the Honduran school year starting in February 2024, Chispa will be returning to some of the oldest libraries to make sure their programs are still being sustained.  This is no small feat, and that’s why I won’t be shy.

Yes -groan- the chaplain is getting ready to pass the offering plate, but I won’t ask you to consider anything I haven’t done. Seize the chance to be a change-maker by joining forces with my wife and me as monthly donors.

A mere $25 each month gifts a kid with a library of wonders. Ready to make your mark? Sign up at, or send check made out to Chispa Project to the address below.

The question that most surprises me is, “Why aren’t you in my paper anymore?”

I should be. But if I’m not in the print version, then check your weekend online edition. As newspapers continue to adapt to technology, your best bet is to sign up for my weekly missive at

Questions asked and answered.

Now, what else have you been wondering about?


You can get any of my books for free when you start a monthly donation to Chispa or give a onetime donation of more than $100. Make checks to Chispa Project and send to 10556 Combie Rd Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602. Comments received at same address or by email or at (843) 608-9715.