Norman Doidge, neuroplasticity, lasers and me …

Good Morning. And a very Happy Thanksgiving to my American pals, who deserve a day of rest and merriment. But enough about you.

One of the ostensible purposes of this blog has been to try to help anyone else out there who has been suffering from the unintended consequences of inguinal hernia surgery and chronic pain, and when I last left off I was pretty much at the end of my proverbial medical rope. But a light has truly been shone on my troubles and it seems somewhat miraculous.

Compounding my issues, as attentive readers [hahahahahaha, ed.] will remember, I broke my left femur in 2015, and the pain issues flared. Taking solace in audio books, I sat and listened to Norman Doidge’s The Brain’s Way of Healing, and couldn’t help but know I had to take on my pain problems in a different way. And I worked hard at my yoga, and it did help, but I also relied on narcotic pain medication, albeit a small dose, and had accepted my lot. My last contact with doctors had been pretty conclusive. You have tendinopathy and adhesions and a torn hip, a chunk of metal in your left leg and some mesh in your right side and we have repaired you as best we can and have little left in our kit bag other than cortisone shots in unmentionable places which I have had. Have some more tramacet, and let’s up your medical marijuana prescription. Now don’t get me wrong. I have had excellent medical care in a difficult and not obvious situation. Some unfortunate doctors along the way, but mostly really knowledgeable and compassionate people doing their utmost in an intractable situation.

And then here I was, two years after breaking my leg, thinking why didn’t I just go to Toronto to see if the lasers mentioned in chapter 4 of The Brain’s Way of Healing might be able to help the pains in my right groin. So I got on the web to have a glance at my options only to find that the specific laser therapy mentioned by Dr. Doidge, Bio-Flex Laser, has spread like wild-fire and was available at a number of locations here in Ottawa.

After 14 laser sessions focusing on my right groin, and 7 very helpful manipulations working on the inflexible muscles I had developed in my back through years of careful movement trying not to trigger pain but creating a world of problems of its own, I found myself thinking I didn’t really want to take my tramacet. Not a huge moment, just a sort of casual, humph, I don’t think I need it. And here we are, a week later, and though my body still sometimes seems to crave that relief, I am certainly in no more pain than when I started, and a significant medication down.

There are beginning to be solid medical studies showing the efficacy of lasers in all sorts of situations, and this one in particular caught my jaundiced eye:

Effects of low-level laser therapy on pain and scar formation after inguinal herniation surgery: a randomized controlled single-blind study.

And just in case you don’t feel like clicking on that exciting sounding link, here are the results and conclusion of the study:

G1 [who had the laser therapy] showed significantly better results in the VSS [Vancouver Scar Scale] totals (2.14 +/- 1.51) compared with G2 [no laser therapy] (4.85 +/- 1.87); in the thickness measurements (0.11 cm) compared with G2 (0.19 cm); and in the malleability (0.14) compared with G2 (1.07). The pain score was also around 50% higher in G2.


Infra-red LLLT (830 nm) applied after inguinal-hernia surgery was effective in preventing the formation of keloids. In addition, LLLT resulted in better scar appearance and quality 6 mo postsurgery.

While I wish it had been an option earlier, like an oak tree that you didn’t plant twenty years ago, it can still be planted today. And so far so very good.

My list of things to cope with has expanded to the almost never mentioned Bell’s Palsy that has plagued me for 5 years, but which also just might respond to laser therapy, as these two studies suggest:

Efficacy of high and low level laser therapy in the treatment of Bell’s palsy: a randomized double blind placebo-controlled trial.

Role of low-level laser therapy added to facial expression exercises in patients with idiopathic facial (Bell’s) palsy.

So let’t hope the next time you see me I am not drooling and walking like peg leg Pete. I honestly haven’t felt there was hope in a long time, and really hope that others out there with chronic pain will do some research into lasers and healing and possibly get some relief as I have.

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Well, that really took the wind out of my sails …

but life marches on.

Pictures being worth a thousand words, here is (much of) my delightful family at the very happy occasion of our eldest offspring graduating from medical school, and becoming a surgeon, at one of the greatest Canadian universities, Memorial in Newfoundland.

Now that is a happier photo to wake up to!

And speaking of sails, we got new trampolines for the still [!!!, ed.] unnamed boat, and she looks marvellous:

I could go on and on about having ripped out all of the old head, linoleum, smelly pipes and all, but suffice it to say I took out my wrath against the universe by a work of terrific destruction, and we all felt better, and the composting toilet really is the bee’s knees. Or something much more smelly but also great. And I am sure you are all in breathtaking excitement waiting for the unveiling of my latest rug, which is almost done.

Apologies for the long hiatus – Mouse was a true friend and it has taken some time to heal. [Pun almost intended.] Hope all is as well as this universe allows, which is sometimes pretty magnificent:

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Sad to say, we lost our best Mouse …

It was quick, and very final. Lyme disease played a part, but something else must have been lurking. We had promised ourselves not to drag out another dog’s life, having done too much in the past, but this time there wasn’t even that chance, and Mouse checked out with speed and grace as she lived her life. I know everyone thinks they had the best dog …



but we did. Thanks Mouse.

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Maybe a flu shot would have been a good idea …

Well then, that was gnarly. Sorry for the hiatus.

However, a break from commentary seems like it was a good idea. Truth really is often stranger than fiction, and I am still reeling from all those pundits who had no idea what was going to happen now happily telling everybody what is going to happen.

But February is upon us, the sun is shining more strongly, the blood is flowing in my veins again, and the birds are chomping away at the suet. And if you are wondering what birds are chomping away at your suet, check out this excellent app from Cornell:

An App to ID Your Bird Photos

That’s right: our Merlin Bird ID app just got an upgrade that analyzes photos on your phone and offers bird ID suggestions. Just snap a photo or choose one from your photo library, answer a couple of questions, and Merlin will offer smart suggestions about what North American species it might be. Read more at eBird or download Merlin free for your iOS or Android device and try it out.

Can’t Get a Photo? Merlin still offers uncannily good ID advice from a simple bird description—now expanded to feature 650 bird species.

When I downloaded said app I accepted emails from them, and received this astonishing video, which I cannot embed, but is absolutely worth the click and  will brighten your winter day. Happy February.

Secret bird of paradise dating dance revealed


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Happy Birthday to me …

As my father-in-law once said, I never wanted to be 86 until I was 85. My brother was also succinct one year: think of the alternative …

Feeling it was a good year, as one’s expectations sink with each passing year, but no broken bones or dead parents seems like a rip-roaring success in comparison to much of my 2010’s, and capped by the engagement of our daughter, a classic ending for a comedy, we shall bank this one as comedy not tragedy.

                                 Xty 2015                                                             Xty 2016


I’ll take it!

Love and best wishes to all.

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Progressive? No thanks … or at least only if I’m at the helm …

The other day I had a somewhat depressing run in with our city councillor who mistook his election as a mandate when it was a strong rejection of the development mad woman whom he replaced. We discussed two recent neighbourhood changes: one, the ludicrous changes to the traffic light around the corner to dis-allow right turns on red and demarcate a bicycle waiting zone that never has any bicycles in it, but a long line of idling cars behind the green paint, waiting to turn; and two, the addition of signs reminding folks it is illegal to panhandle on the highway off-ramp nearby.

Now having explained that the no-right turn on red had increased both smog and the danger to the school kids crossing at the light because now cars can only turn when pedestrians can cross and those cars are now full of much more impatient and irritated drivers and those kids are more full of smog, he actually said that they were looking at it and intended to add to the beginning of the pedestrian crossing times a time when cars could not turn right as well. So his proposed solution would actually make both the issues we complained about even worse. Longer idling wait times and more anger from the drivers.  We have lived here for 25 years and the intersection was “improved” over the course of a couple of years and you can tell by the increased squealing tires and honking that the peculiar lane markings and cement island have really made it a pleasure to navigate. And yes, people have hit the added island and so has the snow plow of course.

Already distressed by the lack of logic this response demonstrated as well as a certain inability to actually listen to a constituent and be at least diplomatic, he somehow launched into apologizing for the do not pan-handle signs, which I have been pleased by. It is a really sad business, and I mean business, that runs these “homeless” men. They clearly are pimped out, share a bicycle and a cardboard sign, and have shifts, a sentiment the councillor readily agreed with. Both the Shepherd’s of Good Hope and the Mission here in Ottawa have asked people not to give them money. I have personally been wanting to paint “do not feed the bears” on the overpass. If you pay people to lurk on the off-ramp with a Tim Horton’s cup, you will get people lurking on the off-ramp. It is a pretty lucrative spot too, if you do the math on their hourly take. But there is no dignity or future in this. And these gentlemen have demonstrated an ability to stay on their feet for hours while almost working. Sell me a gall-darned pencil at least you nitwits! But back to the councillor. He apologized for those signs and started saying, “Progressives like us …” but I was retreating in horror.

Now it seems to me that the last thing a progressive would do is hand a beggar a dollar with no strings attached, and it would appear that not only am I right, a progressive would have probably wanted to sterilize them on the spot and have them slowly starve. But don’t take my word for it, as other people have said it much better:

 Thomas Leonard on Race, Eugenics, and Illiberal Reformers

EconTalk Episode with Thomas Leonard

Hosted by Russ Roberts


Were the first professional economists racists? Thomas Leonard of Princeton University and author of Illiberal Reformers talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book–a portrait of the progressive movement and its early advocates at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The economists of that time were eager to champion the power of the state and its ability to regulate capitalism successfully. Leonard exposes the racist origins of these ideas and the role eugenics played in the early days of professional economics. Woodrow Wilson takes a beating as well.

You knew it was bad, but maybe not this bad … but when you hear a self-proclaimed progressive wanting to raise the minimum wage, you just might want to think twice about what the initial intent of the policy was, and how it might even lead to beggars on the off-ramp.

So have a nice regressive day.


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Gobble gobble gluck gluck, munch munch munch, millions of Americans sitting down to lunch [with apologies to Spike Milligan]

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends …

hard to know where to begin, but easy to know where to stop:


Best wishes.

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Sailing to Georgian Bay’s North Channel in our 1995 Corsair F-31

To get things started, here’s our route from start to finish, much of the track laid down by the GPS, and some of it added by hand. When you are travelling, places become like characters and so like any good mystery it is good to start with a legend of sorts, to save needless description later.


We had the luckiest winds, and having now sat in the steamy rain for days back at Penetang, I am more and more delighted with where we were able to go. I will let the map and photos tell the story, mostly. But first it must be said that this boat, as old as our youngest adult child, seen here [the boat not the child] just after raising the mast at the dock as we get ready to set out from the parental-in-laws’ dock, made it possible:


I don’t know what our average speed was but we went across the bay from Parry Sound to Wingfield Basin on Cabot Head, a distance of 45 nautical miles, in a calm rain and it was no problem and we screamed (well at least I almost did) from Wingfield Basin past Lonely Island and Manitoulin Island to the well named Snug Harbour (not the one of the lovely lighthouse just north of Parry Sound) with speeds upwards of 14 knots … the old Catalina, which happily has indeed found a new owner in Pointe au Baril, could occasionally dream of 6 knots … but they were nightmares.

We took a few extra days getting ready to go, so we weren’t actually sailing on the day of our 30th anniversary, but some of those days were spent by the noble captain ripping out the hideous marine head that is best left undescribed, and which he replaced with a home-built composting toilet using a separator that we purchased online from England. It worked so well that I feel obliged to provide a link. It also involved a bucket, a few large water bottles, some hose and a block of coir, and details can be forthcoming for those scatologically inclined.


We spent our first night with the magnificent toilet on Gin Island, just west of Beausoleil Island, having left almost at dusk but determined to get under weigh. [At least I assume on a sail boat you are under weigh, not under way, as one must weigh one’s anchor to leave harbour.]

Here I am, sampling the waters, the following morning:


From there we had a beautiful sail up past Giant’s Tomb Island and all the way to Sandy Island just outside of Parry Sound. I didn’t get a picture this time of the Jones Island lighthouse, but I just happen to have a peach of one from our 25th anniversary trip, five years ago, and it is still being its iconic self:


When we first became acquainted with this lighthouse we were sailing north up the east coast of the bay and while the traditional route on the chart shows one heading way inland at this point, which we were preparing to do, a rather large fishing boat appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and hearts in hands we followed his wake. And here is the route for the would-be cognoscenti:


The winds being favourable, if light, we then made our shot across the bay to Wingfield Basin, as you can see from this exciting action shot of the boat speeding along on the very successful OpenCPN software we used:


only to wake up to a very different day with strong south-west winds. Here is the exit from Wingfield Basin as we made our way out, and unfortunately we never did turn on OpenCPN until out of the howling so we don’t have our track, but the GPS showed 15 knots more than once.


The foreboding view ahead:


I have recovered.

We then harboured in the aptly named Snug Harbour on Badgeley Point and made the mandatory tiny hike to Devil’s Bay Lake. I think I was still a little shaken, if not also stirred, and have no pictures, but the harbour is worth mentioning as being astonishingly deep once through the neck, 40 feet almost to the shore.

From there we made our way past the wonderful lighthouse on the northern tip of Strawberry Island


and then through the swing bridge at Little Current, which does indeed open on the hour, but which does not indeed stay open for the promised 15 minutes if there are no boats clearly waiting.


It wouldn’t be a blog post without mentioning food. We stopped to re-provision in Little Current, after first having a delicious lunch at the Anchor Inn Hotel, established in 1888


of whitefish and mashed potatoes and surprisingly al dente veggies, and even a quite delicious Canadian merlot for the crew and a local Swing Bridge draft beer for the captain:


It must be said, even by me, the galley wench on the trip, that we had been already eating like kings. A selection of pre-marinated frozen proteins, from tuna and halibut to the herb crusted lamb that was left behind and consumed on our return, made the trip both easy and delicious. [I will bore all with links to recipes in the comments.] The boat has a remarkably efficient ice-box/fridge that we never actually turned on but simply cooled with block ice. We set out with three blocks, replaced them at Little Current, and then added two more on our return through Killarney. It was almost too cold for the beer, a few cans of which started to explode, and kept everything crispy with minimal effort.

After purchasing a wonderful souvenir t-shirt of a bass swallowing Manitolin Island as bait on a hook, some fresh potted pea-shoots that we are still eating, and fabulous honey from the island, we motored west and north up yet another Waubuno Channel to anchor on the northern tip of Great La Cloche Island, where we touched our one and only rock. We shouldn’t have and were very lucky as well as well-prepared, as we had loosened everything off. Daggerboard was up and just the very bottom of the rudder gently sanded itself off as it kicked up. Here we are in the canoe, looking for the offending rock, which we found, with a rather visible white stripe:


It turned out to be quite well described in the Ports book, but somehow we missed the memo. The anchorage was beautiful


except for a couple who suddenly appeared on a sailboat from nowhere, possibly a boat that had been further in the bay and decided to leave and then failed to do so in the gathering twilight, whose crew had a screaming fit as they re-anchored, featuring intemperate comments about the depth of the harbour. [Note to self: voices carry well over water.]

From there we sailed to Croker Island which is part of the Benjamins and backed ourselves and Bob the BBQ up to the beach:


And then Captain Dryfoot inched us in closer, because, frankly, the boat is awesome for gunk-holing.


We then moved the boat to the far side of the little island that is within the curve of Croker Island to snuggle up to the shore and get away from the west wind, that was developing a hint of north.

img_8975From there we paddled over to the far shore to look out over the bay, where we first met the ducks who then adopted us briefly:



And yes, we did discuss eating them Survivorman style.

Instead on the following day we headed back through the Little Current swing bridge


on our way to Killarney, where we lucked out and pulled into the empty dock of the Sportsmans Inn, to be greeted by a charming youth who explained they were having a staff party so were technically closed but we could tie up for as long as we wished, and even offered to come back and help us leave if the wind came up. Just knock on the pub door. You just have to love northern folks. But the offer was not necessary as everything was peachy and calm:


A short walk took us to Herbert Fisheries for fish and chips and smoked trout and ice


and a sighting of a large black bear cruising the lawns on the far side of the channel, and also to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (because Canadians, at least those in Ontario, have to buy their booze from the government) for a little more wine and souvenir beers for the boys.

We made it in twilight to Dufois Bay, just outside of Killarney, foregoing the suggested Thomas Bay as the light faded. The next day was quite the sail, and the GPS clocked 16.2 at one point. We had initially thought we might head into Byng Inlet but I felt there was nowhere to get the sails down and so we adjusted our sights and flew down to Pointe au Baril, where the narrow opening served our purposes well

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-10-34-35-am and we found the needed shelter to make it down to the magnificent Shawanaga Island. A crazy old coot in full rain gear and life jacket appeared in the distance on a little blue sailboat, sails down and motor humming, and in a strange panic beat us to the pretty little beach and old broken dock, which he almost literally slammed into. It was one of those “you had to be there” moments, but was truly hilarious. The harbour is really large, and there is a second beautiful shallow bay behind where it is a little more protected. It is hard to capture the humour of the incident, but as you can see, second best was possibly best:


There is also a little beach and picnic table just to the right of the camera, a picnic table that is up to its knees in sand.

From Shawanaga it was back to the lovely Sandy Island [technically I believe we were on Joiner Island, but they all appear as one at low water] and I include our track because it saves one from going north and outside the McCoys and the Mink Islands or taking the inside route behind Franklin Island, and because I have come to regard Arthur Orr Rock as a kind of welcoming friend and wanted to mention his name:


From there it was a gentle wobble back to my ancestral Go Home, following a successful navigation of the inside of the Pine Islands, which was so successful we were almost disappointed at the lack of shoals. We waved good-bye the following morning


and then met up for a surprise family picnic on the paternal side on the Gin Rocks on our final day, before tying back up at Penetang, making the whole trip complete in a most satisfactory way.


I also wanted to mention that I had the enormous pleasure of reading, thanks to a kindness by a friend at our sailing club, The Last Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst:


which features an early trimaran and a character straight out of Joseph Conrad. An excellent companion on any voyage, and particularly this one. I highly recommend it. It was like an added layer of flavour on the trip.

And now the boat is at the dock, and we must prepare to fold her up and get her back home. It was a happy anniversary trip, an excellent proof of concept, and I noticed the captain starting to consider how far the Bahamas are from various parts of Florida …



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Now that they have knocked down the house right behind us … I really would rather be sailing the F-31

Or should I say Osprey? I still think that is my favourite of all the names we have thought of, and I am beginning to have trouble walking past all the dreadful puns at the sailing club, and cannot in good conscience inflict another one on the unwary. The amount of construction we have witnessed in our twenty odd years on this street is really quite something, it seems to me, compared to the pastoral myth of my childhood. I do remember when renovation season hit Toronto, in the early eighties after a brief flurry in the late sixties, which saw an awesome amount of orange shag carpeting make it into our family home. Peter Sellers would have been proud! In the eighties it was all windows on angles, and then somehow in the nineties everyone wanted their kitchen at the front of the house and the living room at the back. Me, I just like things roughly functional, and mostly quieter than the city is allowing lately. At least it appears a house is going up, not a condo tower, so we will make the best of it. But it is going to mean construction, every day, starting so far at the somewhat civilized hour of 7:30, for months and months. And we already had a house built right next door to the north, literally 18 inches from the lot line. Luckily the infill to the south was built before we moved in, but we are now going to be surrounded.

We are lucky folks though, and throwing caution (and some money we don’t have) to the wind, shall also throw ourselves to the wind, setting out at the beginning of next week for three weeks on Georgian Bay, if the gods are willing, not crazy as would appear to be the case. So it is time to get the old camera dusted off, start the provisioning piles, and try not to worry too much about leaving poor old Mouse behind, but long days on the boat are not good for her and she will be much happier at home. She is showing her age, and it must not be thought about too much. [Aren’t we all, ed.?]


But long days on the boat might do this old girl a power of good.

Hoping the metaphorical sun is shining for those who deserve it, and the others, well … not so much.

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Happy Dominion, oops, Canada Day!

As we bathe in red and white, and feel supremely lucky to call Canada home, let me just say:

Won’t get fooled again?

Meet the old boss, same as the new boss?

“We will remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code….” That is from Justin Trudeau’s election campaign, and the sentence then goes on to hint at the draconian penalties lurking for anyone who sells pot “outside of the new regulatory framework.” So a win/lose proposition in the first place. But possibly a step in the right direction. But what is he saying now? “I intend to cause the next generation to become as cynical and disillusioned as their parents …” Er, sorry, that was meant to read:

“The laws haven’t changed yet,” Justin Trudeau said during an interview with News 1130 [a Vancouver radio station] this morning [March 1]. “Pot is still illegal in this country and will be until we bring in a strong regulatory framework.”

And when challenged about what he would say to a teenager who under the current regime gets a life record and jail time for some minimal amount of weed, this was the mealy-mouthed response:

“I think decriminalization is a bad idea because it doesn’t do anything to make it more difficult for young people to access it and it doesn’t do anything in terms of keeping the black market and the criminal organizations from profiting from it,” Trudeau replied. “That’s why I believe in control and regulation that actually will do the protection of public safety and of minors that we need. And in the meantime, it’s still illegal.”

Ass-hat. So to translate, once the government and their cronies figure out how to profit from this trade that is already controlled by the government and that they know enriches criminals, often criminals they know, they will develop a monopoly trade. Maybe. But right now, Trudeau proudly continues the traditions of our own Stephen Harper, and of course those presidents of whom I am sure he is so proud to be linked through policy, Hoover, Nixon and Reagan, and really every other president except maybe Jimmy Carter, using drug laws to control masses of people and keep the pharmaceutical industry and the arms manufacturers and swat team equipment sales folks happy and rich, not to mention the militarized police we have to live with, like those who just destroyed so much property in Toronto.

I am the face of legal weed. It has allowed me to live without harsh pharmaceuticals that I was prescribed, like Oxycontin and Lyrica, that had tremendously bad side-effects. But the threat I appear to pose, at least as far as I can figure out, is leaving the money economy … a plant that is simple to grow and replaces all sorts of harsh pharmaceuticals just cannot be allowed in this modern industrial complex that needs all its citizens to fill its tax coffers so they can use that money to continue to prosecute an immoral and extremely harmful assault on literally hundreds of millions of gentle souls who find much good in marijuana and little harm.

Study after study finds it much less harmful  than all sorts of currently prescribed drugs but perhaps most frustrating is the difference in the way weed and alcohol are treated. The carnage on the roads, the domestic violence, the corrosion of the liver … families destroyed … you know which of the two I am talking about without me having to say it. It is and has been obvious to the powers that be for over a century that marijuana is relatively harmless and indeed salutary. But the so called War on Drugs has proved too tempting for the powers that be and they will not relinquish their hold on this venerable plant without apparently another century of bizarre disconnect between the laws and the people.

Stop the madness and legalize pot now. And if not, then get onboard with decriminalization and save the next generation from distrusting their leaders with the same well-earned cynicism of their forebears.

Oh, and have a lovely Canada Day.


Posted in LIFE, RANTS | 46 Comments