Welcome

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.

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.

You’re invited! Yes, you, everyone reading this.

This Saturday

Sep 27th, 2014

from noon to 5 pm

come visit me at

the Zine Fair

at

Minnehaha Free Space
3747 Minnehaha Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55406

I’ll have my comics, self-published stories, jewelry and other goodies!

Here is how you get there from downtown Minneapolis. (The downtown Target is where I work, so that is why it’s labeled “work” in the directions.)

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Hope to see you there!

Sirius the Starling: the 6-inch-tall pianist

My first video of Siri playing his piano. His training is going well, but he’s still a little bit shy about it.

I will post more videos as his skill improves.

(Sorry about the watermark; I am using a free version of this video editing program. When I have better videos– after more piano lessons– I’ll either buy the program or use a different camera that doesn’t insist on making 3gp files that can’t be edited in iMovie.)

Notebook Lifehack

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Input:

scissors

small binder clips

paperboard or slightly firm paper junk mail

printer fails (badly printed pages, wrong pages printed, etc, as long as they have one blank side)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Output:

removed handles for binder clips (can throw out, or save for when the notebook is full and you want to reuse them)

cool handmade recycled notebooks for homework, sketching, grocery lists, etc.

Yay!

Doctor Spock

tumblr_ll724vTIwp1qfgxbgo1_500 imgres

The Doctor: alien, but spends most of his time with humans

Spock: half alien, half human

The Doctor: has a name that no one knows

Spock: has a family name that is never revealed onscreen

The Doctor: has two hearts

Spock: has his heart in his side instead of his chest

The Doctor: died and regenerated a buncha times

Spock: died and regenerated once

The Doctor: telepathic

Spock: yeah

The Doctor: pacifist

Spock: yeah

The Doctor: totally geeky

Spock: super yeah

The Doctor: object of a million fan crushes

Spock: *fan crush-o-meter explodes*

The Doctor: his home planet was destroyed

Spock: his home planet still exists …you know, we’ve decided he wasn’t enough like the Doctor already

dreams within dreams

xthe-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-movie-poster.jpg.pagespeed.ic_.1WJk6eXPjw

The other night, I came up with a theory about the Ben Stiller version of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” in which it turns out that all the “real” adventures he had were just more vivid daydreams, and his ACTUAL life was still totally boring.

My basis for this headcanon was:

1. it would be truer to the original story the movie is based on

2. in real life, the last issue of Life Magazine did not have that photo on the cover

3. in real life, it is impossible to get cell phone service in all the places he did

so, logically, these experiences must not have been real.

Then I woke up, and realized I had thought this all up IN A DREAM.

This is… so meta, I don’t know what to think.

Gingers

This is my husband John C Ricker.

John is a ginger.

Gingers gain a freckle for every soul they steal.

John is a photographer.

Photographs steal souls.

John almost never photographs humans.

John photographs hundreds of animals and plants.

John has hundreds of freckles.

Therefore,

animals and plants 

have souls.

Otherkin

I have occasionally described myself as an alien.

And lately I have spent a significant amount of time on Tumblr (where all genders, orientations, and other forms of identity are accepted and defended, and furthermore, there are new and unusual identities gaining recognition all the time).

So I’m sure some people are wondering what my opinions are on the phenomenon of “otherkin.”

That question encompasses several questions, which I’ll try to answer one by one.

1. How do you define the term “otherkin”?

As I understand it, otherkin are people who experience a feeling of being something other than a human, trapped in a human body.

2. Is it real?

Of course. It’s a feeling, so, if people feel it, then by definition it is real.

3. Is it just a feeling? Or is it really what people say it is?

If you mean being a literal reincarnation of some animal, a literal descendant of some alien, or a soul that some supernatural power literally placed in the wrong body… then, in my opinion, no.

However, I don’t find those ideas any more unlikely than the claims of mainstream religion.

To people who earnestly believe them, I extend the same respect and tolerance that I extend to religious people, as long as they aren’t using it as an excuse to hurt others.

You don’t have to share people’s beliefs to respect their feelings.

4. Is it comparable to being transgender? (In other words, is it the same type of feeling, and of the same strength?)

Without having had both those experiences, I can’t give a confident answer to that.

I’m not telepathic. I can’t know for certain what another person feels, or how strongly.

I can only make guesses based on people’s words and actions.

From observation of words and actions, I’m pretty sure there is a wide variation among individuals, both transgender and otherkin, in terms of how strongly they identify as such.

In both groups there appear to be some who identify with the group consistently and strongly throughout life, and others who identify temporarily and less strongly while they are growing up and trying to figure out their own identities.

Is the consistent-and-strong identification more common among transgender people than among otherkin? Yes, from what I can tell.

The recorded history of the transgender movement gives lots of evidence of transgender identity being felt very strongly, often to the point of undergoing major surgery, and risking one’s job, relationships and even survival for the sake of expressing one’s identity.

There’s less recorded evidence of otherkin going to such extremes.

However, to be completely open-minded and scientific, I have to consider the possibility that this is because otherkin are less common overall, or because they have not had communities that recognized the existence of their identity until the last few years.

And otherkin (or possible otherkin) are not completely absent from recorded history: there is, for example, the 1987 case of the Leopard Man of Skye.

Also, even if the experience of being otherkin is generally much less strong and enduring than the experience of being transgender, that doesn’t mean it is undeserving of any respect at all.

5. Should we demand respect and recognition for otherkin, in the same way we demand it for transgender and gay people? Or would that harm the social justice movement overall by causing people to take it less seriously?

I can see both sides of that. On the one hand, I would find it very hard to argue that any group does not deserve respect and acceptance. But on the other hand, I’m not sure society as a whole is ready to accept otherkin.

And, if otherkin associate themselves with the transgender movement by using some of the same terminology and rhetoric, it’s possible that could cause setbacks for society’s willingness to take transgender people seriously.

Society is starting to accept gay rights, transgender rights, women’s rights, and racial equality. That’s a great thing, and it would be terrible to lose that progress by pushing demands for more acceptance on society faster than it can adapt.

I’m not saying that people *shouldn’t* be ready to accept all non-harmful forms of self-expression at once. I’m saying that, in reality, they aren’t… and, however unfair it may be, the success of all the various human-rights movements depends on society being ready to accept them.

So maybe we need to wait a while, in the same way that we’re not going to start fighting for the right to polyamorous marriage while we’re still struggling to get gay marriage accepted.

But, even if that’s the case, it’s not a question of whether otherkin deserve acceptance; it’s a question of whether it’s feasible at this point in time. I’m all for accepting everyone who expresses their identity without hurting other people with it.

6. Do you identify as otherkin?

I can see how people could get that idea, since my first published book was literally titled “Born on the Wrong Planet.” But no.

As a teenager, maybe even as a college student, I might have identified as otherkin, if I had known about that community. I have even actively described myself as feeling like an alien trapped in a human body.

But that feeling isn’t prevalent enough in my life for me to consider it part of my identity.

(Especially since I’ve managed to surround myself with friends and loved ones who are as alien as me. It’s easier to feel that I fit in on Earth, if I carefully pick the elements of Earth that I get to spend time with.)

Sirius the Starling takes the Ice Bucket Challenge

The ice bucket challenge is really working for raising awareness. It may be silly and gimmicky, but it’s getting people to donate.

So Sirius stepped up and tried it.

He’ll take a bath in ANYTHING. Well, almost anything. Maybe he had to wait until the ice melted; so what. He’s adorable.

ALS Ice Water Challenge

I first learned what ALS was, when I was a kid in the car with my parents, driving past this old landmark:

http://www.slphistory.org/history/als.asp

als1969

I asked what the letters in the sign stood for. My parents explained both meanings (though I’m sure the builders of the sign didn’t have Lou Gehrig’s Disease in mind).

I kinda wish this place was still in business, so I could go there, order a glass of ice water, and pour it on my head.

Oh well. Might have to make do with Al’s Breakfast on University Avenue.