New Series of Heroic His/Her-stories

In increasingly uncertain times, we need heroes (and heroines) more than ever. My definition of a hero is someone who enriches our world with grace and extraordinary skill, overcoming adversities to pursue their vision.

This January I’m launching a new initiative to produce a series of bio-pics of heroes/heroines within my circle of beloveds. The people to be featured include master craftspeople keeping Native traditions alive, environmental scientists monitoring lake waters for toxins, and basketry instructors weaving together environmental protection with cultural revitalization. The bio-pics will be published as digital and print books and short YouTube videos on my Dr. Pfeiffer channel.


A bio-pic produced as a Shutterfly and eBook years ago on master beadworker Stewart Wilburn will be updated; YouTube videos on work to address vanishing species and toxic algal blooms in Clear Lake will be expanded and deepened.

Initial funding comes from faculty development grants at San José State University to support student collaborations with Northern California tribes.

Stay tuned! If this takes off, it might be time to launch one of those GoFundMe sites…

Tiny House Festival 2018 to feature the Champion bus!

Three-hundred-and-thirty-three thousand YouTube views later (and a forthcoming chapter in a book on the Modern Housebus by Kimberley Mok), the Champion bus will be available for onsite tours at the 2018 Tiny House Living Festival this February 2-4 at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, California.

Champion at Tiny Home Living Fest

As the festival organizers describe it, “join hundreds of other tiny house enthusiasts at this three day celebration of the tiny house movement! Explore the possibilities for small space living; tour tiny houses, park models, yurts, school bus conversions, live aboard boats and more!

Come visit! The festival will have a slew of tiny homes to tour, speakers, sustainable living products, the works. Of course the most important part of the festival is connecting with folks who are passionate about downsizing and alternative living, and who can give you an insider’s view about How To Do It. One-day tickets are $14/$12; three-day tickets are $30.

University students support tribal youth promoting traditional foods

One of the most abundant, nutritious, and freely available foods in California falls on the ground every autumn, and while the squirrels, woodpeckers, and several hundred other species take notice, very few humans still do.


Acorns were the original all-purpose mush, providing protein, carbohydrates, fats, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and niacin. Stripped of their outer shell and inner skin, pounded and ground, soaked in water to release the bitter tannins, dried, and carefully stored, acorn flour could last months until the next acorn processing.

Nowadays few people go to the effort of making acorn flour into mush, yet when they do, and bring the dish to a tribal gathering, it is fully appreciated, especially by tribal elders.

In Santa Rosa, the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center is working with tribal youth to develop an ACORN* energy bar ” to make it possible for California Indians and everyone to be able to eat acorns daily while advancing the acorn ways of our tribal communities.”

*ACORN stands for Advancing Cultural Opportunities to Reclaim NutritionACORN ENERGY BARS are “made with acorn meal and other organic, gluten-free ingredients representing the bounty of California.”

SJSU student fundraiser acorn bars

As their GoFundMe campaign website explains, “Healthy eating is a critical issue in our communities. You may not know that 1 in 9 Native people in California have diabetes, mainly Type II. [D]iabetes in our communities is associated with dietary/nutritional choices and physical inactivity. Healthy eating and exercise can help prevent diabetes and control it. Incorporating traditional foods in our diets is extremely important but not always possible for us in contemporary life. This is where ACORN comes in by contributing and facilitating consumption of a nutritive meal made with traditional foods.”

This Fall semester at San José State University, a student group in our Nature and World Cultures class – Jaime Allen, Johanna Lundsford, and Van Nguyen, held a fundraiser on campus to earn money for this project. Prior to the fundraiser, the group attended cultural events at the Museum and the California Indian Heritage Center in Sacramento while researching traditional acorn processing. The fundraiser fulfilled the group’s goal of actively contributing to biocultural diversity conservation – in this case, supporting tribal youth in reviving an ancient food packaged within a modern-day product.

The GoFundMe campaign continues, and welcomes donations. For more information, see CIMCC or visit the Museum at 5250 Aero Drive, Santa Rosa, California, (707) 579-3004, M – F 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Together with tribal Task Force, students produce outreach poster to help reduce cyanotoxin harm

Cyanotoxin Poster Page 2

Clear Lake, California’s oldest and largest lake, is experiencing recurrent toxic algal blooms: blooms composed of photosynthesizing algae, including blue-green cyanobacteria. Certain species of harmful cyanobacteria produce toxins known as microcystins that are lethal to humans, pets, livestock, and wildlife.

The environmental protection offices of the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians and the Elem [Pomo] Indian Colony have taken the lead in water sampling and creating area maps showing sites around the lake that are “repeat offenders” for cyanotoxins. In 2014-2015 half of the Clear Lake locations sampled cyanotoxin levels exceeding the cautionary threshold  of 0.8 ppb (parts per billion) for public health risks. Measurements reached 16 ppm (parts per million) for cyanotoxins in 2014 and 10 ppm in 2015 – thousandfold increases above the threshhold.

Tribes with ancestral ties to Clear Lake gather basketry material, wild-harvest edible wildlife, and perform rituals along the shorelines. “Tribes use the lake heavily, and for things that aren’t necessarily captured by measurements geared to what the general public is doing,” says Big Valley EPA officer Sarah Ryan, who, together with Elem EPA officer Karola Kennedy, founded the Clear Lake Cyanobacteria Task Force.

Composed of an impressive array of city, county, state, and federal agencies representing environmental protection, human health, water resources, and state parks, the Task Force monitors lake nutrient, pollutant, and toxin levels, and meets routinely to discuss sampling results, associated field studies and agency actions.

At the lowest cautionary levels, the public is advised not to swim or wade near algae or scum, to keep children away from algae in the water or on the shore, not to drink the water or use it for cooking, not allow pets or livestock to get into the water, drink the water, or eat scum on the shoreline, to avoid eating shellfish, and to dispose of fish guts and clean fish fillets with tap water or bottled water before cooking.

Ensuring cyanotoxin-free areas is especially important for ensuring the safety of the participants and sacred purity of ceremonial sites. When toxic algal blooms appear, public signage is voluntary, and the placement of signs can be a political issue. “People in positions of power are often violently opposed to the signage,” noted a local health official, referring to the fear of economic losses when signs go up and people stay away from the lake.

Cyanotoxin poster Page 1

To counter the lack of local signage, San José University Students Phillip Spink and Benjamin Davidson carefully researched pollutants affecting Clear Lake – including methyl mercury, a generations-old toxin impacting the lake waters since the closure of the Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine,  a Superfund site immediately next door to the Elem Indian Colony that turned Clear Lake into the most mercury-polluted late in the world.

The pair designed a two-part outreach poster, focusing on the Lake’s primary health threats, for local distribution. The poster combines health and human safety information from a variety of public sources, re-interpreting the information in a clear, graphics-based format. The poster is available for free, to anyone interested. The students hope their informational poster can reduce the risk of harm for all Clear Lake residents and visitors, especially the tribes and tribal communities whose lifeways are so closely interlinked with the history and future of the Lake.

To download copies of the poster, click here.

Becoming Carbon Neutral

With climate change threatening everyone’s future in uncountable ways, and continued government inaction, what’s a conscientious citizen to do? How can we effect change, how can we be the change, one life at a time?

Ever since I began a professional focus in the environmental sciences, every year I push myself to change one more thing in my life to become more ecofriendly. I’ve grown and processed my own food (chickens! tomatoes!), drastically reduced my waste (less than one garbage bag per year), purchased 98% of my clothing from Goodwill and consignment stores, and downsized my living space.

The next big step involves becoming carbon neutral. Essentially, this means holding myself accountable for my carbon footprint (to the best of my abilities – this is not yet an exact science), and working with my adopted Indonesian tribe (the Tado) to sponsor planting of culturally significant species (bamboo, teak, sugar palm and Imperata grass) that help improve their lives.

Six months after making this decision, my story has reached almost two hundred thousand viewers on YouTube. Filmmaker Dylan Magaster documents my journey towards carbon neutrality here:

If you’re interested in becoming carbon neutral yourself, a step-by-step guide is in progress on my new “Beauty and Love” website.

(Caveat: this is just my journey, I’m far from perfect, and I’m always trying to improve. I encourage everyone to act instead of indulging in armchair critiquing – doing so creates happier lives and more positive vibes!)

True Stories Beat Out Reality TV

Selected Memories

The art of truth telling has never been more important. True-to-life stories (otherwise known as nonfiction) involve disclosure and risk, pathos and pleasure. These stories are more gripping than any reality television show; more daring, more authentic.

One of the nation’s foremost creative nonfiction literary magazines, Hippocampus, has pulled together their finest essays from five years and published them in a slim volume entitled Selected Memories.

My Pushcart-nominated essay “Until We Have Loved,” a finalist in Hippocampus’ 2015 contest, is included in this volume (and singled out for praise by a reviewer) along with thirty-two other amazing writers covering a wide range of human experiences.

Perfect summertime reading.

Hippocampus Selected Memories blurb 2

Scorpions, And.

During my years in Eastern Indonesia, I experienced a wide range of flora and fauna, from the microscopic (tropical parasites) to the macro (Komodo dragons). A few species were so memorable they merited a written tribute.

Bite Me” my most recent essay published in Lowestoft Chronicles (a free, humorous online lit zine), tells the story of my extremely up-close-and-personal encounters with the widely ranging members of the Order Scorpiones.