Unsent letter


Greetings and Salutations,

The following is a letter I was planning to send out in May. Alas, time has slipped from me and now its almost August! Here’s the letter anyway, hope you enjoy!

It’s been a busy few months at Leah-central. As you know, I graduated in December with my Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry. I kept working at Panera as I searched for a new job in the field and the really big news is that I landed a six month contract position through Aerotech Scientific at the Aurora Procter and Gamble Iams pet food plant. After the six months are up I might be offered a permanent position (which I’m not sure I’d take yet) or I’ll be looking for another job. Either way, this is a great way to start my career as it gets my foot into the quality assurance and manufacturing worlds.

The position’s official title is “Quality Assurance Technician” or “QA Tech”. I found out about the position on the 14th of March through my contact at Aerotech, Dan Schellhorn, and interviewed for it two days later on the 16th in Aurora. I found out I got the job the very next day on the 17th, and moved home to Grand Island on the 3rd of April (Aurora is 17 miles from Grand Island).  I then started the job with a two hour orientation on the 5th, and  had my first real day on the 7th. Suffice it to say, things happened very fast. We’re still unpacking stuff, but we’re down to enough boxes that both mom and dad can get their cars in the garage, and the front room doesn’t look like a tornado has blown through any more.

It’s going to be weird living at home for the summer, but the other option is trying to find a no lease/3 month lease place on short notice that will take me and the bunny. There are no guarantees of what kind of quality of a place I’d find, and it’d be costly. Living at home is the best option. Mom and Dad have been pretty open to it so far, though I have had some nominal disagreements with dad. We’ll just have to pray things don’t get too heated.


The job itself is fairly easy, but very interesting and varied. The main job is doing tests on the dog and cat food to make sure its in spec and ok for the animals to eat.  The tests are Protein, Moisture, Fat and Ash.  Moisture and Ash are done similarly. You weigh out the sample in a dish (for moisture) or a crucible (for ash) and stick them in the oven to dry (for moisture) or burn (for ash). Then you let them cool down in a desiccator(its a cabinet that keeps moisture out of things) and reweigh them. The amount of mass lost gives you moisture and ash. Moisture is of course how much water is in something and ash is basically shows the mass of what comes out of the dog  (or cat).


Protein and Fat are a little more complicated. Protein is done on a machine called a Leco. You calibrate the two machines once in the morning with EDTA, and then you weigh out three samples of each thing you’re testing (ground up pet food or ingredients) into little veggicapsules (little pill like containers made of vegetable fiber) and load them into the carousel of the machine. As the carousel turns to the open slot, the sample drops down and burns in the furnace of the Leco, the machine detects the amount of nitrogen that passes through the detector and from that calculates the amount of protein in a sample.


Fat testing is done by a method called acid hydrolysis. Basically you measure out a portion of the ground dog food and dissolve it in hydrochloric acid. It cooks for 45 minutes and after you let it cool you extract the fat from the solution using ethyl and petroleum ether. To do this you add ethyl ether, shake for a minute, then add petroleum ether, shake for another minute, stick it in the centrifuge for a minute, decant off the ether into a massed beaker (the fat is in the ether now because it’s organic and so is the ether, and it likes being in ether better then water) then repeat twice more. After all the fat is in the beaker, you boil off the ether and mass the beaker and fat. The mass of the fat over the mass of the original feed is the percent fat in the sample. The samples I ran today had 9-15% fat in them and 20-28% protein.


We also run tests on ingredients which range from standard Protein, Moisture, Fat and Ash tests to pH (to check acidity), CEM Moisture (which is a machine that takes about three minutes to check moisture on liquid products), and toxin tests on raw grains such as rice and corn. The toxin test is actually pretty easy. The technique has to do with polymerizing  the individual mycotoxins then developing them with a substrate and then stopping the reaction and doing some colorimetry on it. (Colorimetry being using the visible spectrum to detect absorbance and finding out concentration from there, plotting it on a curve and then using the unknown value’s absorbance to get the concentration of the unknown.)

Chemical testing isn’t the only thing done in the lab. We also swab equipment for salmonella and other bacteria and send them in to a secondary lab on site for testing,  check product bags to make sure they match up to standards ( checked against transparencies to make sure the text matches up, measuring the dimensions of the bags, and making sure the seal on the bag is good).  We also track holds on bins (if something is wrong with a product or ingredient) and some stuff with the packaging of the product as well as monitor tank temperatures and the metal detectors. It’s really interesting all the different stuff I might do in a day.

The tough part of this job is its 12 hour swing shifts.  I started out on the 7th doing day shift (5:45 am- 6:15 pm) for two days, had three days off and then went to night shift (5:45pm-6:15am) for two days, then two days off and day shift again. It repeats with two to three days on, then two-three days off and switch to the other side of the spectrum. It’s been hard so far. Nights really throw me. I ended up sleeping the whole first day off after it. Going to try to not do that Easter weekend, the next day off after night shift. I’m not sure I want to do do the swing  shift thing long term. It will be a definite decision point when the six months is up.

Wow. I talked two pages about the new job. It is pretty major, but there’s other things going on too.  Keno, the bunny I adopted from the Humane Society in Lincoln wasn’t a very happy animal and we put her down just before Christmas. She was mean to Obi, didn’t want to litter train and destroyed the bathroom (she chewed through a wall and tore up carpet in the rest of the apartment… so no damage deposit back on the apartment. Oh well.) Following that, I had the sudden shock of losing Obi at the end of January. I came home from work one day and noticed he was acting funny. I managed to get him into the vet that night and it turned out he had a hair blockage in his intestines. It was pretty dire but we tried to give him fluids, force feed him special meal and gave him an antibiotic. He died later that night after I force fed him a second  time.  Mom came up still that night and helped me cope with it. We took him to the vet to have him cremated the next morning. Earlier int he week mom had been up and we had  stopped at Earl May. They had some Lion Head bunnies, so we went back to see if they still had the one that I had saw. They did. Her name is Clover and she was born November 21st 2010. She’s pretty active and litter trained beautifully. She’s settling in to the house very well. Generally she comes back to her cage when I rattle the treat bag but today she just wouldn’t come. Go figure that she would go back in the cage for mom after I went to work. Little twerp. I still love her though, we can tell she’s a happy bunny because she will occasionally do an amazing little jump/twist in mid air called a binky.  Obi used to do them when he was feeling really energetic. They’re very cute. Damn I miss Obi. We used to refer to him as the Pasha Bunny because of the way he would sit. It was really regal. Of course Clovie is a Bunny Princess, I’d get her a little bunny tiara if she’d stand it.  It’s funny. She had this little timothy hay hut thing and over the time we’ve been in Grand Island she’s totally destroyed it. So now she doesn’t have a place to hide in her cage for right now until after she gets fixed on the 6th of June. We have two of them, we just don’t want her destroying it right away again.

As far as the diet and exercise goes, it’s been rough. I sloughed off after writing in December and am finally getting back into it. I’ve lost 10 lbs since I restarted, which means I’m almost back to where I was before I stopped.  Just gotta keep going. I joined a health club sort of place called Anytime Fitness. They’re open 24/7, so I can start trying to go after I get off work, though I’ve been really tired almost every night/morning I get off.

Things with Scott are a little rocky right now. I think it has to do with me moving to a new job and him staying in the exact same place (unemployed). We’ll see if it continues to work. Long distance relationships are hard as is, and I haven’t seen him in person since last August which might as well have been an eon ago as far as my personal development has gone with graduating in December and getting a job. He hasn’t been able to visit because he has no money which I don’t see improving any time soon. It’s frustrating, but I guess we just need to to ride it out or have it ride out on us.

So that’s what’s new with me this spring. I hope this letter finds you well and I hope to hear from you soon. You can always email me too if the mood strikes you and it’s available to you. My current email is lacisneobscura@gmail.com if you need to update your address book.(It translates to “the dark swan” in Spanish…Darkswan or Lady Darkswan is my online identity on a lot of websites. I guess I was in a particular mood my freshmen year of college and came up with the Spanish email address after sitting in my Spanish class after reading some Latin American mythology with an assignment to come up with our own myth. I came up with the story explaining black swans… if I recall it had to do with some regular swans rescuing some geese from a fire and getting dirty from the smoke.)

So that’s what’s been going on with me. At this point I’ve decided I can’t do the rapid rotation any more and I have started looking for a new job. I had a phone interview and then a in person interview a few weeks ago at a plant in Blair but I didn’t get the job, so still looking. I have spent the last few days going through all the websites I apply at but haven’t heard anything back yet. I have time though.

I and Scott are going on vacation as soon as my job ends in October.  I’m going to fly to Atlanta, and he’s going to pick me up there and then we are going to drive to Athens to visit his grandmother, then Knoxville Tennessee to visit our friend Greg and his wife, then we’ll drive down to Jacksonville to visit my friend Judy, and finish out with a few days in Orlando at a Disney resort before driving back to Atlanta for me to fly back to Grand Island. It should be a lot of fun and a good chance for us to spend some quality time together.

Much Love,



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