My first name is Erika. Not Erica. Not Ericka. My last name is Hammerschmidt, which has thirteen letters, including five consonants in a row. People still find it easier to spell than my first name.

In college I majored in German and Spanish. I also accidentally minored in art, just by taking so many art classes for the fun of it. I grow my own vegetables. I cut my own hair, but even when a professional barber cuts it, it still sticks out on one side and in on the other. I’m an author, artist and speaker living in Minnesota. I work at Target as well as giving speeches on autism and writing books. I am married to a space alien named John Ricker, who, like me, is on the autism spectrum.

Below you will find my latest news. Blog posts happen at least once a week here, on Sunday morning. Add me to your bookmarks! I’m always up to something.

Writing thoughts


I’m thinking a lot lately about going back to writing fiction.

My big writing project lately has been a new memoir, Erika to Earth, where I talk about my life since the publication of my first book Born on the Wrong Planet, as well as exploring in depth some issues that I regret ignoring or portraying simplistically in my first book (which I wrote as a college student with limited experience and a somewhat idealistic worldview).

Similarly, I want to write fiction that portrays humanity with more of its true complexity than the first fictional book I published, Kea’s Flight. When John and I collaborated on that novel, I still believe we did something good in telling the story of some strong and intelligent autistic characters like ourselves, but there are still aspects of it that I regret.

I’ve been working on a sequel, bit by bit, and as time goes on, I’m becoming more and more aware of how important it is for the sequel to be more inclusive.

I want to show a wider range of the disabled people that were mentioned living on the ship. The first book never went into their lives, and I regret that. I want to show those with more severe impairments, those who can’t speak vocally, those whose intelligence was never recognized, those with low intelligence. I want to show Kea interacting with them, listening to them, taking their ideas into consideration. I want to see her learn to respect them, as I have.

I want to show non-disabled people who are more in-depth characters than Brandon from the first book. Life is not just autistic heroes versus allistic villains. I want to show interaction between autistic and non-autistic people as the complex, nuanced, sometimes enlightening, sometimes painful reality that it is.

“Kea’s Flight” included a lesbian, a bisexual and an asexual, all female. I want to show more of the LGBTQ spectrum. I want to show gay and bi men, and maybe some trans characters. I want to make them complex characters and show more scenes from their viewpoints. There were also a few characters in “Kea’s Flight” who were apparently Hispanic (though the setting is such that people’s ethnic heritage is difficult to know). I want to show a wider range of people of color. I want to paint humanity as it really looks, in all its intricate detail, showing all the colors and shapes and fascinating twists.

I know I’ll get things wrong, and I’m prepared to accept criticism. I hope to build my skill at accurately depicting all aspects of the world and its people.

I’m a growing and changing person, and, I think, so is Kea. When John and I created her, our hearts were more or less in the right place, but our awareness was narrower than it is now, and we made her in our image.  I believe she can grow as we have, and expand her worldview and the diversity of her group of friends.

Random act of kindness

THANK YOU to the person who sent me silver wire from my Amazon wish list!!! I didn’t recognize the name on it, so I’m guessing you’re either a casual acquaintance whose name I’ve stupidly forgotten, or a fan who doesn’t know me personally. (Also, I’m writing this cautiously because I’m not sure if you’d want to have your name posted in public). In any case, thanks so much! I made some really cool necklaces out of it.


Radio host: So Iggy, freestyle for us.


Radio host: …Is that a breast pump?

Iggy: yes, it’s for draining fluids out of your body to feed babies

Iggy: here’s one for vampire babies:

If you are plotting getting me a present…

Amazon Wish List

Looking at my wish list, you might assume I was a lot more new-agey than I am. But no, I’m just artsy-craftsy. The crystals are because I like sparkly things and I want to wrap them in silver wire and make awesome shiny necklaces. The oils and extracts and stuff are because I’m playing with the idea of making my own lip balms, perfumes and soaps. (And, of course, the electronic gadgets are because I’m human and I’m a nerd.)

Also, I put “100″ for the quantity I want of some things. That doesn’t mean I really won’t be satisfied until I have 100. It just means I won’t mind getting multiple copies of the thing, because it’s a craft supply and I may use it up.

And, no I’m not expecting that people will actually buy me all the stuff on this list. But I figured it’s worth a try, since some people do tend get me presents this time of year, and I’d rather have something from this list than some random gift from someone who had no idea what I wanted.

Amazon gift cards are good too.

How I backed up my personality on paper (take two)

(Updated with the more recent version of the project. I redesigned the books to be prettier, fit better in the box, and hold more data.)


Pharmacy Tech

Passed the PTCB Exam today! If all goes well, I should receive my certificate in the next few weeks, and be a Nationally Certified Pharmacy Technician.


Free Space Show!!

So, the holidays are coming up.

And while you’re shopping for gifts at Minnesota’s many local craft fairs, I’d like to make sure you know about one of the lesser-known but still lovely ones:

Minnehaha Free Space Craft Fair & Bake Sale

Sat Dec 13, 2014

1:00 pm – 5:00 pm

This is the one at which I’ll have a table, selling my handmade jewelry and other crafts.

My jewelry is crazy intricate Renaissance-fair-type stuff that you can see on my website.

There will be lots of other cool artists too! And the prices will probably be lower than other craft fairs, because artists don’t have to pay a huge fee just to get a table at this one.

Since it’s a bake sale, there will also be baked goods! Probably including some vegan and gluten-free options, because Minnehaha Free Space is into that.

The craft fair will be at:

Minnehaha Free Space

3747 Minnehaha Ave

Minneapolis, MN 55406

email: radspacetc@riseup.net

call: 612-729-3733

If you can get to downtown Minneapolis, it’s easy to get to Minnehaha Free Space from there by train. Here are directions from the downtown library. (I’ll give very detailed step-by-step directions, because there was a time when I was so scared of going new places that I would skip out on fun events just because I would have to get to them on my own… in those days, knowing the route in this much detail would have been a big help for me.)

Without further ado:


First, head from the library along Hennepin toward 5th Street:

At 5th Street, turn and wait at the Warehouse Station and Platform.

Get on a Blue Line train toward Mall of America:

Get off at the 38th Street Station:

Turn left and go down 38th Street:

Turn on Minnehaha and you’ll be there!

Sirius the 6-Inch Pianist, Take Two

Sirius the Starling has improved at playing the piano!

And here are some more pictures of Sirius, just because he’s beautiful.

Between the Words

Work in progress: the jewelry collection I’m making for a local art show at the Vine Arts Center  in Minneapolis, put on by an art discussion group called “The Art Salon for Fertile Minds.”

I will post more about this show as our plans progress. Right now, it’s still kind of in the concept stage.

The theme of the show is “The Space Between the Words.” That can be interpreted many ways… the phrase was chosen because we are a group of artists who discuss our art at the Art Salon, and our art is created on our own time, “between the words” we say at the group.

My own interpretation refers to my short story collection, “If the World Ended, Would I Notice?” In the first story, “Doug Day,” I described a necklace given by one character to another. It was basically my dream necklace, the epitome of exactly what I find beautiful.

Between two paragraphs, I included a pen-and-ink illustration of it. So the inspiration for this jewelry collection came literally from “the space between the words.”

The project is almost done. It’s crafted in sterling silver and stainless steel, with lemon quartz, blue mystic quartz, pearls and other assorted gemstones. I’m just waiting for some amethysts I ordered in the mail. 

I will be reading aloud from “If the World Ended, Would I Notice?” at the opening.

Review of Arbico Organics

So, from time to time I review things on this site. Sometimes books, sometimes programs. Today, it’s bugs.

Full disclosure this time does not require saying that the producer of the bugs has promised me anything in exchange for this review, because it hasn’t. I chose to write this on my own, because this company can always use more business, and I like it so much that I really, really want it to stick around.

The website Arbico Organics came to my attention when I was searching online for treats for my pet starling, Sirius. For those who aren’t already aware, a starling is a mostly insectivorous bird in the wild. As pets, they can live quite well on a diet of dog food and poultry mash, but Siri’s favorite treats included dried mealworms and crickets from the pet store.

However, these posed a few problems. He liked to eat a LOT of them, especially when I was training him to do tricks like playing the piano. And despite being insects, dried crickets and mealworms are not actually healthy snacks for a bird. They are mostly fat and indigestible chitin. Eating a whole lot of them is very unhealthy.

In addition, a 1.7-ounce jar of them at the pet store was in the $8- $10 range, usually the upper end of that range. At the rate he went through them, they were simply not worth the cost.

So I went looking for a healthier and cheaper starling snack. I focused on professional suppliers instead of trying to catch my own bugs to feed him, because wild bugs can carry various pesticides and parasites, and besides, I didn’t have the time to go catching that many.

Eventually, I found Arbico Organics’ Fly Delight.

This was a bag of dried, dead houseflies. And it seemed to be my wish come true. On their feeder insect page, Arbico Organics claimed that their pet treats “provide a natural varied diet that is easily digestible, and will not cause problems associated with chitinous, exoskeletal materials.” They carried no crickets or mealworms, but lots of flies, which have a thinner and softer exoskeleton. And they appeared to be raised in a pretty safe environment, unlikely to be infected with any diseases. Looked like a healthy snack to me.

The Fly Delight cost $6.50 for 0.20 ounces… more money per ounce than the mealworms or crickets I’d been buying. But in bulk, it was different. A 1-pound bag was $34, plus enough shipping to add up to $45.97. If I were to buy enough pet-store jars of crickets or mealworms to make up a pound, that would be nine or ten jars at over $8 apiece, for a total well over $70, and probably in the $80 to $90 range if I weren’t lowballing the prices. The Fly Delight was not only healthier, but close to half the price if I bought enough at once.

So I did, and when it arrived, I was impressed at the size of the bag. I’d had no idea that a pound of dead flies took up so much space! By volume, I was getting quite a lot for my money. This was going to last me a very, very long time.

I was also surprised that the text on the bag recommended refrigerating them. I wasn’t sure why; dried flies would probably be fine on the shelf, as long as it wasn’t too hot or humid. But just to be safe, I put them in a big container and stuck it in the back of the fridge, saving a handful of them in a small jar to keep close at hand.

Sirius loves them! In fact, at first he loved them so much that he wouldn’t even do tricks while I was holding them, because he couldn’t tear himself away from standing right next to them and staring directly at them! Eventually, he got used to them enough that I could use them as training treats, but he still counts them among his favorite things ever. As a starling snack, they are an absolute success.

While researching Arbico Organics, I found out that most of its business is not related to pet treats, but rather live bugs used in biological warfare against garden pests! They sell ladybugs, lacewings, nematodes, and lots of other beneficial organisms that eat things you don’t want to have on your plants.

This was of interest to me, because my windowsill garden was suffering from a bad spider-mite infestation. I could hardly get any beans out of my bean vines before the spider mites ate them alive, and my tomato plants would barely live to maturity at all. I had tried cleaning the leaves with a spray bottle of water, and another spray bottle with some soap and rosemary oil, but it was having limited success, and with Siri’s delicate avian respiratory system I didn’t want to spray harsher chemicals indoors.

I was quite interested in the Neoseiulus Californicus mites, which not only eat spider mites, but can survive during shortages of spider mites by eating other small arthropods and even pollen. They cost more than other spider-mite predators, but they seemed worth it because they wouldn’t immediately starve to death after they ate most of the spider mites, so they could potentially keep the scourge under control for a very long time.

Still, I was hesitant to spend $82.06, including the required overnight shipping for live organisms, when we were not in the greatest financial situation.

I bemoaned the whole thing to Sibre Collard, who surprised me with a wonderful offer. He hadn’t been sure what to get me for my birthday or Christmas, and seeing that it was about halfway between the two, he offered to buy them for me as a combined two-occasion gift.

You know someone is an amazing friend when he can grasp the weird fact that I would consider 1,000 live bugs to be a really good present.

1,000 was the smallest quantity they came in, and the site said “Use 1,000 per 4,500 sq. ft. of infested area,” so it was ridiculous overkill for a small garden like mine. I really should have shared them with other gardeners. But, alas, they had to be released within 18 hours of arrival, and I didn’t know anyone else who needed spider-mite predators and could pick them up within that time frame.

They arrived in a tiny jar inside a box mostly full of packing foam and cold-packs. The jar contained some grainy material like ground-up corncobs, but the mites seemed to be mostly crawling on the inside of the jar and its lid. They were barely visible to the naked eye, a lot smaller than my spider mites. I wondered if they’d actually be able to kill them, but the website said they preyed mostly on the larvae and eggs, so I figured it could work.

I sprinkled the grainy stuff in various spots on leaves and soil throughout my window garden, and set the jar and lid next to a plant in hopes that the mites would crawl off the jar into the right places. I pulled up all the plants that were too badly mite-eaten, but I left enough spider-mite-infested areas to make sure the new mites would be able to find food quickly and keep their population going.

After a few days, I didn’t see any more of them in or around the jar, so I guessed they were finding their way into the places where the spider mites were living. I couldn’t really see them on any of the leaves, but I knew they were hard to see, so I just waited and hoped they were doing their job.

Four weeks later, I’m very impressed! My garden’s growing well. The new bean vines I planted to replace the mite-eaten ones are flourishing without a single visible mite on them– the first time in months that I’ve been able to grow bean plants this far without them getting spider-mite-infested! I see an occasional spider mite on leaves of the tomato plants, but they’re not numerous enough to impede the plants’ growth. These mite predators really do their job!

I don’t know yet how long this will last. Maybe these lovely new mites will die of overpopulation in my little garden; maybe they’ll eat everything they can eat and run out of food. Maybe the humidity and temperature aren’t ideal for them and they’ll die from that. Who knows. If none of them survive, then maybe someday my spider-mite problem will come back. But still, I have plenty of hope.

So, all in all, I highly recommend Arbico Organics! The refrigeration requirement on the Fly Delight was a surprise that I wish they’d mentioned on the site, but that’s a small issue. I wish they sold the mite predators in a wider variety of quantities, but the 1,000-count jar certainly did the trick, and if you don’t want to buy that many, you can pool funds with other gardeners and share them if you’re better-prepared than I was.

Again, here are the links:

Arbico Organics

Feeder insect page

Fly Delight

Neoseiulus Californicus mites

Arbico Organics. Whether you’re feeding an insectivorous critter or growing veggies in your window, this site has what you’re looking for. High-quality, high-quantity BUGS.