Mice in the House

A couple of springs past, after my early morning walk, I stood at the front living room window admiring the beautiful spring day when I heard faint high-pitched noises coming from the heat duct at my feet.  I couldn’t imagine what the noise was and briefly questioned whether it was my shoes, but my shoes didn’t squeak. I stood still, barely breathing, straining to identify the sounds.

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All photos: Shutterstock

On my hands and knees, with my ears near the duct, I heard the squealing and whimpering of several tiny animals greeting their mother and nosing around looking for a nipple. It could only be mice.

We had once made the mistake of leaving cat food in the basement and found ourselves hosting a small colony of mice who chose an antique pin ball machine for their home. But we hadn’t seen any sign of mice for years.

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When Dave got up a few minutes later, I had him listen to the sounds. On his hands and knees, he was also able to hear the tiny squealing creatures. We agreed, mice were nesting in the heat ducts, but we inspected the ducts downstairs and couldn’t find the place they had entered. I soon realized that I could also hear the nesting creatures when I stood next to the bathroom duct.

Thanks to Google I found the sounds of a full nest of baby mice, confirming we had mice in our heat ducts, and proving you really can find anything on Google.

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Then the sound disappeared for a while; we couldn’t find a trace of it anyplace in the house. After a couple of weeks, it was easy to forget about the issue until the noise returned.

After a walk, I went to the front window to pull the drapes and there, at my feet, once again coming from the duct, was the sound of another litter of mice. A mouse can breed up to ten times a year. Babies begin breeding within weeks of birth and can have up to fourteen babies in one litter. There was a rodent disaster about to break loose.

My mind ran wild with visions of a quiet army of mice, breeding, defecating, dying, while warm air from the furnace wafted over their filth and gently deposited the plague in every single corner of the house, in every breath we took. I began researching pest control services.

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Before the week was up I went in for a routine visit with my doctor. As I sat in the quiet exam room, waiting for the doctor and flipping through a magazine, I heard it again. A faint mewling sound coming from under the chair I was sitting on.

 

 

“Wow!” I thought, “That sounds exactly like the mice in our ducts!” Then, in a moment that embarrasses me even today, I realized the pitiful sound of a dozen tiny, nursing, mammals was coming from the soles of my shoes which were quietly planted on the floor beneath me. I removed one shoe and saw thousands of tiny air bubbles and small drops of moisture seeping from the soles.

 

Moisture and air. That was it. I’d worn my walking shoes that morning. The pavement was wet from an early shower. I’m convinced Google used the sound of damp walking shoes to demonstrate the sound of a litter of mice!

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Each time I heard the noise, I had been standing over the ducts in the quiet early morning after my walk. I had been standing next to Dave every time I asked him listen to the sound from the ducts.

The next time you think you’ve done something dumb, or made an ignorant assumption, remember this true tale. You’ll feel better about yourself.

Walk in the Dark

 

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It was thirty minutes before sunrise when I pulled in to the parking lot at Sellwood Riverside Park. I was planning to walk Springwater Trail to the wildlife refuge.

Since it was dark, and I was counting on being alone, I sat in the locked car for a minute or two, assessing the safety of the early morning. With the engine turned off, and the windows rolled up, I heard something. Someone must be out there disturbing the early morning with their music, I thought. I rolled the window down an inch or two and the mellow tones of a flute filled the car.

Long, low, rich tones floated gracefully from the direction of the river. I wasn’t hearing a familiar tune it was a series of slowly played tones that blended with the darkness and the night sky. I took in the very light blanket of fog, the dark quiet of pre-dawn, and the  flute; I knew I was receiving a gift. The gentle music was drifting above the vast lawn in the park and filling the nearby woods. I was enchanted.

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I set caution aside and let my feet guide me in the direction of the music. I couldn’t have done anything else. As I neared the river, I saw the outline of a lone figure sitting in the the dark on one of the picnic tables. The stranger’s feet were on the bench, and his peaceful song was coming from a wooden flute. His dark hair was loose and fell well past his shoulders. He wore jeans, I think, and a jacket against the morning chill. He raised his head slightly, saw me, but did not acknowledge me. I chose to widen my path around him; not out of fear of a lone stranger in the dark, but out of fear that the music would end.

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Not ready to leave the experience behind, I took the longest path to the Springwater Trail. I walked past the stranger, through the grassy field that would be filled with people and dogs in a few hours, into the woods by the frog pond, and finally up to the trail where the music gradually faded and the sun was beginning to rise.

 

Friends and Thunderstorms (With Gratitude for Both)

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Photo by Shutterstock

I haven’t been on Wild City since I lost my husband, Dave, on August 10.

Dave had a gift for making life-long friends. He had friends from elementary and high school days, and from his first jobs out of college. He made good friends everyplace he went in the insurance industry. Golfing wasn’t just a frustrating pastime for David, it was also a time and a place for cultivating friendship.

During those first numb and shocking weeks after losing Dave, friends stepped up and offered to help.

Again, and again I said, “Thanks, thanks so much, but I’ll be fine.”

I was wrong.

Thankfully, our friends knew I was wrong.

I couldn’t think. I secretly worried that something had happened to my brain. I talked to people and couldn’t recall conversations, I tried to make plans but couldn’t reason, though many issues demanded immediate attention.

Our children were amazing and supportive, even while they were in the middle of their own grief.

Friends and family stepped up for us. Ever-conscious of not being intrusive, they reached out and they helped. They anticipated how deep the water was and took it upon themselves to hold me up, to keep me from drowning.

I hope I can be worthy of the kindness and generosity I’ve experienced. I hope to carry that knowledge into a future where I can be there for others.

Lately, I’ve begun missing my blog, the fun of traveling the neighborhood or the wildlife refuge; the joy of sharing a love for urban wildlife. Yet, I’ve been frozen and unable to understand how I might reconnect with that passion.

A week ago, we had a day of wild fall weather, a beautiful storm which seemed to break the grip of a hot, dry, summer with thunder and lightning, torrential rain, and hail. In the late afternoon the sun came out and a brilliant rainbow spread itself across the sky. I saw it, but it took a sweet gift from our old friend Bruce to give me permission to love it.

Bruce and Nancy have been friends for many years. Bruce sent an email that helped me out of a foggy haze.

Bruce wrote:

“…I have just been sitting on the patio listening to the thunder, watching the rain, smelling the fresh air, and having a drink. So much fun just sitting back, watching, smelling, and listening to nature do its thing while resting my back. The thunder and rain make their own great melody. I decided to check my weather station. Two days ago, we got 0.25 inches in 24 hours. Today we got 0.36 inches in one hour. It sure looked like more when it was coming down.

I feel as though I am waking up, stepping back into this world. While there is still sadness, there are also glorious thunderstorms; and there are friends.

 

A Game of Cat & Mouse (and Dog)

Sometimes an insignificant event turns into a memory you can pull out and enjoy all over again.

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Jasper

Only a few feet in front of me, a black and white cat tore across the street carrying something in its mouth. The hot July day had cooled after dark. Jasper and I could enjoy a quiet evening walk.  The sweet old dog didn’t pay any attention to the cat and probably wouldn’t have even if he hadn’t been blind.

I recognized the cat. She usually hung out on the porch of a house on Cardinal Street.

Once she reached the front lawn of her own yard the cat dropped a mouse on the grass. Then she settled down in front of her still-living prize and contemplated the many ways she would enjoy toying with the tiny thing. The porch light spilled on to the lawn, illuminating the scene.

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The mouse spent a few seconds quivering and gathering his senses. Perhaps he had been snatched so suddenly, and carried so swiftly through the neighborhood, he didn’t yet realize what had happened. Perhaps he was simply surprised to still be alive. The cat, cool and calm, narrowed her calculating feline eyes and watched

Tentatively, the mouse moved a few inches to one side. The cat calmly stretched her paw out and batted the mouse back. Then she relaxed again and waited for the unlucky rodent to play some more. She was in no hurry.

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Again, the mouse moved, this time in the opposite direction, and this time more quickly.

Kitty just slapped him back to center stage. The mouse was confused and disoriented.  He began frantically attempting to escape. Time after time the cat batted him back, sometimes rolling the mouse over in the grass, then sitting back to continue watching her little toy. It seemed the game would continue for some time.

I had just about decided to intervene. After all, this well-fed cat was cruelly entertaining herself. Suddenly a front door across the street opened. Yellow light spilled out the door and a small schnauzer followed. The dog spotted the cat and immediately tore across the street. For a minute it was a Tom and Jerry cartoon with the cat holding the mouse at bay and the dog in hot pursuit of the cat.

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Then kitty turned from her prey and raced to the porch of her home with the dog following. Before the dog could reach her the cat turned, humped her back, and hissed menacingly.

The schnauzer, who must have been familiar with sharp kitty claws, skid to a stop just out of the cat’s reach. He suddenly lost interest in sport, turned, and headed back to his home where a woman was still holding the door open for him. Only seconds had passed since she had let him outside.

The cat seemed to have forgotten her tiny plaything. She calmly lay down on the door mat and folded ladylike paws in front of her as if to say, “Nothing to see here.”

The mouse had disappeared.  He was headed home with quite a story to tell.

Bald Faced Hornets!

This is an update to my July 5 post (Hornet)  about the fascinating hornet’s nest in our back yard. We had second thoughts about protecting the nest:

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Bald-Faced Hornet Nest (not ours)

Ryan, from Pete’s Pest Control, came over to take care of a Yellow jacket nest we had in the back yard. We used to take care of Yellowjackets ourselves but last year we started reacting to stings more intensely than before. More important, nobody gets stung when we call Pete’s!

Yellowjackets usually get aggressive later in the summer, but with the hot dry weather they started getting cranky in June this year.

Chatting with Ryan from Pete’s, I mentioned our hornet’s nest.

“They don’t seem to bother us if we stay away from the nest,” I said, “so I don’t need you to take care of them at this point.”

“They aren’t Bald-Faced Hornets, are they?” Ryan said.

“Well, I don’t know. I googled hornets and tried to figure out what they are, but they don’t seem to like me staring at the nest, so I didn’t hang around enough to get a good look!”

Ryan wandered over by the rhododendron where the hornet’s nest was. We carefully peeked at the nest in the middle of the bush.

“What! I said, “I can’t believe it. That nest is twice the size it was when I looked last week!”

There were many more hornets crawling around and buzzing around the outside of the nest. They seemed very cranky.

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Ryan cautiously peeked a little closer then jumped back, “Those are Bald-Faced hornets!” he said.

Ryan has been to our house a couple of times. He’s fearless in the face of a large nest of furious Yellow Jackets. Nothing much seems to scare Ryan, but he quickly backed away from our Bald-Faced Hornets.

“You can keep them if you want,” he said. but the nest could get to the size of a basketball and it’s only two feet off the ground. They can be aggressive, and they have a nasty sting. If your dog or a child accidently disturbs them they are dangerous! If you decide to get rid of them, there’s no extra charge since I’m already here. It’s up to you.”

“Really?” I said.

I was thinking about my neighbor Scott’s grandkids who play on the other side of the fence and my little dog, Teddy.  About that time, as if on cue, a couple of agitated hornets flew our way

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“Okay!” I hollered as I ran toward the house.

Yes, I am a bald-faced coward.

Once I was safely inside, I silently said, “sorry” to the creatures who couldn’t help being what they were.

Ryan said he doesn’t always bother with his bee suit when he takes care of yellowjackets, but for the Bald-Faced Hornets he was covered from head to toe.

Dave and I watched Ryan from the safety of the back window. Ryan had taken care of the Yellowjackets in a couple of minutes. For the Bald-Faced Hornets, Ryan worked slowly and very carefully.

Since then I’ve heard several stories from people who have had miserable experiences with the bald-faced hornet. Check YouTube if you want proof!

I hope none of you have followed my example and tenderly protected a Bald-Faced Hornet’s nest.

They have a place in the world, but it’s not in our back yard.

Never Look a Hornet in the Eye

 

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While trimming a large rhododendron bush in the back yard, I discovered a hornet’s nest. It’s a clever paper structure, built under a shelter of leaves and somehow actually attached to a couple of the largest leaves. You can’t see it very well in the picture below because I’m not brave enough to get closer.

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I wasn’t even near the nest with my clippers, just trimming a couple of limbs that were stretching out over the lawn creating an obstacle for the mower. Moving the branches disturbed the nest. One insect began circling my head, then two, then six. Like any sensible gardener, I quickly left the scene

Once the insects settled down, I went back to look for the nest. Wasps have been building small paper nests under the covered patio for years, but this nest was much larger. It piqued my curiosity.

Dave and I talked about whether we should destroy the nest. If we did decide to destroy it, the answer to how it should be done is the punch line to an old joke, “Very Carefully!”

We decided to let them be. They seem to leave us alone as long as we don’t disturb their home and they are valuable predators of flies, grubs, and other insects.  I’m anxious to study the nest up close,  but I’ll definitely wait until this fall when it’s empty!

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Yesterday we watched hornets flying in and out of the opening on the bottom of the nest. Curious to get a good look at the creatures and their home, I bent down and looked through an opening in the tangle of leaves and branches. I was able to do it without disturbing a single leaf and I had a perfect view! Exactly what I wanted.

Dave was studying the nest from another angle. Suddenly I realized one of the creatures was sitting in the opening looking straight into my face

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“Hey Dave, see that guy hanging out at the opening? He’s actually looking me in the eye!”

It felt very odd. Insects are so much smaller than us that we don’t get a sensation of their consciousness. I don’t think of them as having a consciousness, but for a split second I saw the creature register my presence.

A second later his big fat body took off headed straight for my face! I only screamed a little bit, but I ran really fast!

I may have thought of him as a tiny robot, but he had taken a moment to look me in the eye, and he didn’t like what he saw.

 

One Goose

Oh Canada goose! How often have I cursed your multitudes. You spread across grassy fields leaving slippery bullets everywhere. One woman and her small dog can barely navigate without falling into the filth. I have wished you into a stew pot or the centerpiece of a Dickens Christmas dinner.

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Yet I cannot look at you without smiling. Sitting alone, at the highest point on the roof, you look down on humans walking the paths in Crystal Springs. You cackle and croak, offering us a cranky tongue lashing perhaps, or quoting scripture and spreading the Good News. Maybe you are cursing us, wishing us into stew pots.

You are a cocky fellow, confident and handsome Without your friends and relations, I see how beautiful you are, a living bright-eyed study in black and white and cream. You have something to say and you are a fine dressing for the top of that roof.

I’ll curse you and your friends and relations again, but this morning I bow to your singular spirit.

Mole Wars

UnknownEvery spring, as soon as the first molehill appears, David goes to war. His diligence has resulted in experiments with many repellents, a variety of traps, and more than one explosion.

He was bound to notice the two or three small mounds that appeared in the back yard this week.

“Oh, I’ve got to go get that mole!” he said this morning

Dave isn’t alone in his summer obsession. Our neighbors Bob and Mike are sensible men, but they have also enlisted in the war against the tiny creatures. Just the other day they were standing on the street shaking their heads with concern as they discussed this year’s invasion.

The suburban American male was bred to fight moles. They cannot help themselves.

From my point of view, moles are interesting and harmless little mammals. They are trying to survive. They’re not all bad. They take up very little space, they eat insects and slugs, and they aerate the earth. Their fur can flatten in either direction enabling easy backward or forward passage through their tunnels. The tunnels can be up to six feet deep. Moles are highly territorial, battles between males are frequently fatal. It may seem as though you have a dozen of them tearing up the lawn but it’s usually just one

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For a while Dave tired of traps and switched to unorthodox methods. There was the Juicy Fruit gum trick. You shove a stick of gum deep into the mole run. Suburban legend said Juicy Fruit is lethal to moles. I don’t know who started that rumor and I’m pretty sure Dave never really thought it would work, but why not try? For a few weeks the moles were underground gleefully smacking Juicy Fruit.

One summer the crows were catching moles when they were near the surface, and – well, you know the rest. Unfortunately, moles were a snack the crows craved for a while, before moving on to something else. I recently did the same thing with pistachios.

In frustration, Dave once turned to explosive mole eradication. Men like explosives as much as they hate moles. Unhappily for the moles, the explosions were usually tiny but highly effective.

Fortunately, there were no arrests the day Dave’s explosive experiments came to an end. I’m reluctant to say what he used that day lest somebody’s husband be tempted.

We were in the front yard. I stood in the background fearfully waiting. Dave was in a great mood, thrilled with the excuse to create an explosion. He dropped a match in the mole hole he had already prepared.

A huge BOOM resulted. I screamed. The ground shook and seemed to shake for moments after the initial explosion.

It was midsummer, not fall, but the small flowering cherry tree in the front yard shook violently and dropped all of its leaves. I don’t need to exaggerate about these things. Doors up and down the street opened and worried souls scanned the neighborhood for the bomber.

Standing behind the five-foot fence, Dave and I froze for a moment. Then I peeked over the fence and scanned the street in both directions, hoping my expression looked more curious than guilty.

It was back to traps after that. I’ve tried to talk Dave in to letting the creatures have their way for a while, but he believes in defending the home front.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Yearling

fawn-of-black-tail-deer-standing-in-grass-C1TK8WOnce spring brings new fawns, it isn’t long before the yearlings separate from the does and join the herd. I thought maybe it was the presence of a new baby that signaled to the yearling to leave her mother’s side.

Yesterday morning I think I saw how the separation actually occurs. A spindly-legged tiny fawn and her yearling sister wandered the field as their mother lay in the grass watching. The rest of the herd was grazing elsewhere.

Every few minutes, the yearling trotted up to her mother. The first time, the doe stood and chased the yearling off. After a minute, the yearling moved close again, as though she hoped for a little comfort after a rude rejection. Once again the mother chased her off, without violence, but with unmistakable firmness that I could feel from the top of the hill where I stood.

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Navigating beginnings and endings is a challenge for most of us. Relationships often have to change, sometimes they end. Even sending beloved children out into the world can be a tough transition.

After a couple more tries, the yearling seemed to accept rejection. For the next 20 minutes, while I watched, she stayed within eyesight but never moved in close to the older doe again.

One early morning observation isn’t science, but I think I know what I saw. The yearling needed a determined maternal push in order to move on. She had to come to terms with a change she wasn’t prepared for.

Whether the mother struggled with the change we will never know; but I do so envy her ability to know when, and how, to let go.

Playing Possum

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Taishou discovers something of interest in the garden (all possum photos by Sally-Lou)

The faint scent of blooming white lilac followed us as we walked through the side yard at Sally-lou’s house. When we reached her back garden, a paving stone path led to a garden bridge and a trellis covered in sweetheart ivy.

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Sally-lou has spent 28 years creating her peaceful garden, and it shows.

“Everything in this yard, every bush, pot, and decorative object, has a story,” Sally-lou said.

Like a happy little garden sprite, Sally-lou’s five-year-old grandson, Carter, skipped and hopped alongside us, followed closely by the handsome and gentle 100 pound Akita, Taishou (pronounced like cashew). The easy spirits of the child and the huge dog reflected the atmosphere of the quiet garden.

Sally-lou and I met when we were walking our dogs one morning. She’s a friendly, open woman with a beautiful smile. As we talked that morning, Sally-lou told me she once hated the lowly possum but now she’s changed her mind about the creature.

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Carter & Taishou

Last July, Sally-lou carried a cup of coffee and Taishou led the way as they enjoyed an early morning walk through the garden. Taishou became distracted by something and when Sally-lou investigated, she found the dog standing over a dead possum near the deck. Six squirming babies hung tightly to the back of the possum who, it turned out, wasn’t dead at all – was only playing possum!

The possum doesn’t intentionally play dead. It’s an involuntary response to stress (like a faint). Fortunately, Taishou was only mildly curious about the creatures, not overly excited or aggressive toward them.

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As homely and unloveable as Sally-lou may have found the possum, she wanted to give those babies a chance. She used a pink plastic garden bucket to shield mother and babies as she gently pushed the possums up against the opening under the deck. The little family could stay safe there until the mother revived.

This simple encounter made Sally-lou rethink her beliefs about possums being vicious and dangerous animals. A possum can reluctantly defend itself, if cornered, but the possum most often enters a sort of faint at the first sign of a threat. A frightened possum also releases a foul smelling liquid from its anal glands. How vicious is an animal whose first response to fear is fainting – and what appears to be a loss of – well, you know?

Carter, who was with Sally-lou that day, didn’t have any prejudices about possums. He saw little pink noses, tiny black ears with white tips, almond shaped eyes, and promptly named every one of the babies.

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Sometime that night, mother and babies slipped away safely and Sally-lou was satisfied she had done a good deed.

The Facebook pictures Sally-lou posted received more comments than anything she had ever before posted. Most people were amused by her tolerance. They were even more impressed with Taishou’s gentle and mild-mannered interest. Lots of people expressed the same prejudices most of us have had against possums; they are dirty and they carry diseases.

Most wild animals and birds can carry disease, as can our friends and family. Surprisingly, the possum is nearly immune to rabies and distemper. No case of rabies has ever been passed from possum to human. The possum is also a relatively clean animal. Like a cat, she uses her paws to wash her face.

The possum is an opportunistic omnivore and a friend to your garden. She will dine on ticks, insects, beetles, carrion, slugs, and small rodents. Possums love eggs and can bother chickens in an unsecured coop. Chickens are usually more vulnerable to raccoons. Naturally, a possum will help herself to food you leave outside for your cat or dog. The O’Possum Society of the United States calls the possum “nature’s little sanitary engineers.”

We humans equate the possum’s slow ways with stupidity. They seem to be in their own little world when they walk down the street, not even noticing automobiles.

An old joke asks the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” The answer to that question is, “To show the possum it could be done.”

The possum might  be smarter than we think. In studies, possums scored consistently better than any other animal, including rats, cats, and dogs, at remembering where food was hidden. In fact, only humans scored better than the possum.

Possums don’t win beauty contests in the human world. To our eyes, they can appear homely, repulsive creatures. In actuality, possums are harmless and useful animals. As our only marsupial, they are also a unique addition to our wildlife heritage.

We should treat possums as Sally-lou does, we should allow them to move about safely and undisturbed as they go about their good and quiet business.

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Carter & Sally-Lou – Best of Friends