Frog or toad?

frog or toad

Frog or toad?

Toad or frog?

Here’s how to tell:

Think about where they live and how they behave. Frogs live in or near water, they’re good jumpers, and they swim. Toads are born in water, but mostly live on land and walk more than jump. So,

frogs have slimy skin (moist environment), long legs (jumping), webbed feet (swimming), and bulging eyes on top of their heads (peeking above water while their bodies are submerged);

toads have dry, bumpy skin (dry environment), shorter legs and toed feet (walking), and flatter eyes (no need to peer out from underwater). Toads are also generally wider than frogs.

Other cool things to know: touching a toad won’t give you warts, and toads have fewer predators than frogs, because their skin tastes bad.

If you like frogs, visit Save the Frogs, a really cool website frog conservation. It has news, events, and froggy facts.

So, what do you think this guy is? Frog or toad?



How to help a choking horse

I once knew a horse who died from choking on his breakfast. Bob got some food lodged in his esophagus, and his owner turned him out in the hope that the food would work itself loose. It stayed stuck, and by the time the vet was summoned, part of Bob’s esophagus had been without blood flow for so long that it had died. The horse, a young, talented Thoroughbred, was euthanized.

So when my own (not-so) young, talented Thoroughbred stopped hoovering her dinner the other night, curling her lip repeatedly in distress, I felt a bit panicked. My barn manager told me to take her for a walk to see if she’d work it out. That worried me, remembering what the vet said about turning out poor Bob, but her rationale was sound:

  • One reason horses choke is because getting fed from a hanging bucket puts their neck into an unnatural position for eating
  • Letting them stretch out their neck may help them work the blockage free
I also massaged my horse’s throat and watched for swallowing–a good sign–and discharge from her nostrils–a bad sign. It only took a few minutes before I saw swallowing activity in her neck, after which she stopped curling her lip and showed interest in grazing.
We were lucky: in reading up on horse choking, I saw many stories involving sticking tubes down horses’ noses and attempting to flush out the blockage with water. And those were the success stories: some horses died directly from the choking, and others died later from infections stemming from liquid in their lungs from coughing or flushing.Here are some tips I learned in my research:

Signs of choking

  • Stopping eating mid-meal
  • Coughing
  • Visible discomfort (curling of lip, for example) or even distress
  • Discharge from nostrils, or excessive saliva
  • Lump in throat that you can see or feel


  • Keep your horse up-to-date on his dental work. Sharp teeth can cause poor chewing, and large pieces of food are more likely to get lodged on the way down
  • Put your horse’s food as close to the ground as possible
  • If the food is very dry, wet it to help it move down the horse’s esophagus
  • If your horse eats too fast, put a few large rocks in his bucket that he’ll have to work around, to force him to slow down (also works for slowing down ravenous Labradors!)
  • Give your horse as much grazing time as possible, so he won’t be (as) starving at meals

What to do if your horse is choking

  • Remove his food
  • Keep him still, and encourage him to relax and stretch his head down
  • Call the vet. If necessary, she’ll run a tube down your horse’s nose and into his esophagus, and attempt to flush the blockage out with water. She may even need to sedate him or give him IV fluids to keep him hydrated.
  • Don’t try anything Heimlich-esque: that works on humans because the blockage is in their windpipe, so forcing air through can clear the blockage out, but when a horse chokes, the blockage is in his esophagus.

Choke can also be caused by growths or scars in the esophagus, so your vet may want to scope the esophagus after freeing the blockage to see what’s going on down there. If your horse has choked before, he may be more susceptible to future choking, due to scar tissue buildup.Be aware of the causes and signs of choking, and if your horse chokes, hopefully the tips above can help you quickly resolve the situation with minimal stress for your horse and yourself!


Acetaminophen vs alcohol

I had a drinking event come up while I was on a NyQuil / DayQuil regimen, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to combine the alcohol with the acetaminophen, but I didn’t know why. Here’s why:

Acetaminophen is metabolized in the liver, where it is generally converted to harmless substances and flushed out of the body. When the amount of acetaminophen the liver needs to process is excessive, however, the regular pathway for metabolization is overwhelmed, and a secondary pathway is used, via the CYP2E1 enzyme. This pathway also happens to be the one used by the liver to metabolize alcohol. When breaking up acetaminophen, the CYP2E1 enzyme creates a small amount of a toxic compound called NAPQI as a byproduct. NAPQI is normally rendered harmless by naturally-occurring glutathione molecules.

Alcohol interferes with acetaminophen metabolism by increasing the activity of the CYP2E1 enzyme, so that it processes more acetaminophen, resulting in a larger quantity of NAPQI. If the amount of glutathione present cannot neutralize the NAPQI, the excess of toxins, called hepatotoxicity, can lead to liver damage.

Moral: don’t exceed the recommended daily dose of acetaminophen or drink more than the recommended number of drinks while taking the medicine. Read the labels!


Notes from a botany hike at Preddy Creek

Preddy Creek is a newish park north of Charlottesville with hiking and biking trails.


Guttation is sort of like plant sweat: if the ground is wet at night, a plant’s roots could continue pumping in water while the stomata are closed–meaning no transpiration to release excess water. Some plants handle the overflow by squeezing the water out of special pores called hydathodes. Great explanation here. Here’s what it looks like:


Very pretty.

Pine Spittlebugs

If you see this on pine trees:
you are seeing young pine spittlebugs, which feed on the tree and cover themselves with the “spittle” for protection. Photo from

Grasses vs sedges vs rushes

To remember the main difference among the three types of plant, a poem about stems:
Sedges have edges
Rushes are round
Grasses are hollow
Like holes in the ground 

Pink ladyslipper orchids

They only flower every 5 to 10 years, and needs to coexist with a certain type of fungus. More on that symbiotic relationship here.

Running cedar

Way back before the dinosaurs, Running Cedar used to be huge trees. Now it’s a low groundcover plant. Be careful cutting it back, because the expanse of Running Cedar you see is actually just one single organism. Details here.
Photo from Running cedar would make a lovely Christmas wreath, but don’t do it: when dried, it’s extremely flammable.

Corn salad

The name cracks me up. It’s an invasive species, considered a weed by some. More info here.


Corn salad is dichasal. A branch splits into two branches, which each split into two branches, which each split into two branches… The symmetry is satisfying.


It has a pretty purple flower, but more interestingly, it’s the plant you get when you buy shamrocks at the store for St. Patrick’s Day. Gorgeous leaves:

Venus looking-glass

The arrangement of leaves on the stem of this plant is fantastic. They spiral down in bunches, directly attached to the stem.

Maidenhair fern

These ferns have delicate fronds, arranged in a semi-circle on fine, black stems.

Photo from

Barred Owl

A hiker and her dog alerted our group to an injured owl on the trail not too far back. She said it was large and flopped around on the ground as if its wing was injured. A few of us went back to help it, and found a big Barred Owl in a tree across the creek, peacefully watching us. Apparently it had swooped in to grab a treat and wrestled with it, or was faking injury to escape the woman and dog. The owl was big and beautiful, with a gray-brown body and lighter face, and hooted hello at us. Here is more information about Barred Owls. It was too far away to get a good picture, but here’s one from


Coconut oil for everyone

I use coconut oil for oil-based cooking almost exclusively nowadays, and people keep asking me why. Here are some of the wonders of coconut oil:

Coconut oil is high in saturated fat. Isn’t that bad? Maybe not. Not all fats are created equal, and coconut oil has many health benefits. From

  • Supports healthy metabolism
  • Supports thyroid function
  • Supports heart health
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Assists in fat loss
  • Improves digestion
  • Improves skin appearance and elasticity
  • Helps treat Candida and yeast infections
  • Improves cholesterol levels
  • Assists in killing off viruses
  • Helps kill bacteria
  • Relieves symptoms of diabetes
  • Has proven anti-tumor effects

(Be sure to use virgin coconut oil, which hasn’t been hydrogenated.)

This doctor ditched all other cooking oils and uses coconut oil exclusively, citing studies and the omega-3-omega-6 ratio. Check out these recipes if you need convincing about the fabulousness of coconut oil:

And this blog is full of recipes and resources for Paleo eating.

Please share your favorite coconut oil discoveries with me!

Wakeboarding for dummy (me)

I had a wakeboarding lesson. It was glorious. But now I need to keep learning the basics on my own. Attempt #1 gave me a sprained ankle (and led to Lesson #1: tighten your bindings as tight as you can, and then tighten them some more). So here are the things I’m going to work on this weekend when I make Attempt #2:

  • Focus on staying directly over the bindings
  • Consider moving back boot back a hole closer to the end of the board for stability
  • Decrease the angle of both boots a bit (it’s currently between 12 and 18; try between 9 and 12).
  • Remember the stance basics taught in the lesson:
    • 60% of weight on back foot
    • Shoulders back
    • Chest out
    • Hips forward
    • Hands by hip
    • Push hips in direction you want to travel

Beginner tricks to play around with:

  • Surface 180 (riding switch-stance/fakie/revert): bend knees and move the handle to the other hip. Use a slower boat speed while practicing surface tricks.
  • Riding one-handed
  • Crouching
  • Ollie (bunny hop): push the tail down and pull the front food up to pop out of the water. try bouncing a few times first
  • Jumping the wake: make sure to land with weight on the back of the board to you don’t face-plant




USA Waterskiing

Miami Nautique International

What is melatonin, exactly?

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body in response to darkness. A control center in the hypothalamus handles signaling related to processes that make us feel sleepy or awake, and when it’s dark (and only when it’s dark), the control center tells the pineal gland to produce melatonin. Natural melatonin production decreases with age, and people who have trouble sleeping are typically low in melatonin.

Should I take a melatonin supplement?

Study results are mixed regarding the effectiveness of melatonin as a sleep aid, and for its use in the treatment of all sorts of other physical and mental issues. It’s recommended that if you try it, you use it as a short-term supplement, for up to two months. The most common side effects are daytime sleepiness, dizziness, and headaches; there have been no reports of overdoses or toxicity.

Warnings: Melatonin could interfere with lots of different medications, so talk to your doctor if you’re medicating. It is the only hormone approved for sale in the US, and it is sold as a supplement, so it’s not regulated. Choose commercial supplements made in a lab, as those made from animal sources could contain contaminants.