I had an entirely different post planned for this week, but as it often does, life threw me a curveball a few days ago and I needed to make an urgent change of plans.
And today, my friends, I urgently need to tell you about Lola.
No, Lola wasn’t an estranged great aunt or a retired burlesque dancer living in Paris, although her name may imply as much. Rather, Lola was someone much more important than that.
Lola was my bunny.
(In reality, as you will gather from reading this post, Lola was really my mom’s bunny. But if you ask her, my mom will sweetly tell you that she was ours).
After a yearlong battle with declining health, our sweet Lola passed through to the other side this weekend, and I just knew I couldn’t let a single day go by without paying tribute to the amazing impact she had on our lives.
But before I get started, however, I’d like to take a minute to address an annoying, yet seemingly common, misconception about rabbits as pets. And it is this: because Lola wasn’t a typical pet, she was somehow unworthy of the obsessive love, care, and adoration that is characteristic for a pet owner to lavish upon his or her furry friends.
While I understand that most people who believe this falsehood do so out of ignorance or inexperience, I’ve come across a few scornful individuals over the years who would actually turn up their noses in irreverence when I described Lola, like they just couldn’t believe that I would keep a rabbit, a rodent, of all things, as a pet (which, rabbits aren’t rodents, by the way – another misconception. Please see Wikipedia).
What always bothered me the most about this sentiment, aside from the obvious callous delivery, is that at the heart of this reaction, is the suggestion that our love for Lola should have been diminished in some way, because of her small stature, or quiet nature, or general uniqueness as a pet.
Like…a rabbit doesn’t really count because it’s not a dog or a cat.
For those of you who have kept rabbits as pets or know someone who does, you can skip this next section; because I’m sure you know how awesome bunnies can be. But for those of you who are ignorant to the joys of bunnyhood, listen up, because I’m about to tell you.
For lack of a better comparison, rabbits are basically small, quiet dogs. Lola certainly couldn’t bark, but she could stamp her feet, puff out her chest, and look at you wryly and condescendingly out of the corner of her eye in disapproval. She couldn’t wag her tail, but she could wiggle her nose excitedly, jumping around your legs in a circle while instantly making the stress of the day melt away. She couldn’t purr or pant, but if you rubbed her cheeks in just the right spot, she would grind her teeth together in a blissful motion and her body would melt into the floor.
Lola was a super active and social pet. She loved to jump up on the couch or the bed and watch tv with us. One of her favorite things seemed to be those times when my sister was home from Paris and the house was full of women, jabbering away; she just wanted to be one of the girls! Lola loved her toys, too – especially one stuffed rabbit in particular that she bathed lovingly each morning (I affectionately referred to him as her “boyfriend”).
I brought Lola home with me when I was in college (because what better time to assume the responsibility of caring for another living thing than when you’re a poor college student).
My mom would care for her during the day while I was in class, and then at nighttime, it was my turn to take over. I’m sure our somewhat drab nights paled in comparison to fun days with grandma, but Lola never complained. She would sit up on the bed with me in the wee hours of the night while I studied and wrote term papers, often taking tiny nibbles from the corners of my textbooks and novels, or falling asleep to the melodic sound of my fingers tapping against my laptop keyboard.
Once I graduated from college, found a job, and got my own apartment, the plan was always for Lola to come with me, but for some reason that just never happened. Aside from the fact that I worked long hours and felt that I didn’t necessarily have the time to take care of Lola in the way she deserved, I could tell that my mom was growing more and more attached to her (I realized at the time that it was unfair of me to dump this responsibility on my mom, but I tell myself that I was doing her a favor because she loved Lola so much 🙂 ).
Then, when I fell in love with my future husband, a man who suffers terrible allergies to pet dander and hay, the deal was pretty much sealed – this is when Lola formally became my mom’s pet (even though, as you will gather, she was really my mom’s from the very beginning). It turns out that I was correct in my thinking: my mom was a better mother to that rabbit than I ever could have hoped to be.
With her diet of fresh organic produce and purified water, Lola ate better than most upper middle class Americans. She had apple tree branches to chew, her very own critter cottage, and a plethora of toys and noisemakers to keep her preoccupied. But most importantly, she was loved. Dearly.
My mom’s attention to Lola never wavered. Even towards the end of her life, my mom would get up at three and four in the morning to make sure she was comfortable and dry.
For the past year/year and a half, Lola’s health had been declining. It started slowly at first with some accidents on the carpet here or there (extremely unusual – rabbits are fastidious when it comes to cleanliness), but then eventually she lost the function of one hind leg, then another; the result of what doctors assume was a tumor.
We knew that we had a tough decision to make, but selfishly, we just couldn’t let her go, especially when she was still so full of spirit, right to the very end. Poor thing was so tired, but she always put on a brave face for us.
No, Lola wasn’t a dog or a cat, but she sure did seem to know when we needed her the most. That’s the funny thing about rabbits – while we think they’re busy being quiet and self possessed, they’re actually analyzing our every mood, almost perceptive to a fault. And when they learn to love you, they are the most loyal of companions.
Once the hard decision was made and we arrived at the vet for the “procedure”, Lola went very quickly. I’d like to think this wasn’t the medicine so much as her telling us that she was ready to move on to her next life.
Because I’d been so far removed from Lola the past few years, I didn’t think this weekend would be as difficult as it was. My husband and I don’t have a pet right now, and when you don’t have furry family members, it’s easy to think that others are crazy for the amount of time and money that they spend on theirs.
But, on the way to the vet’s office, I couldn’t help thinking about Lola’s little nose wiggling up and down, nibbling on the edges of my homework so many years ago, and more importantly, contemplating in awe the amazing, loyal, and unexpected companion she had become to my mother.
I went into the weekend thinking I’d be there simply as support for my mother, but it turned out to be the other way around – I was a train wreck, and my mother gave me comfort (as mothers tend to do in times like these).
Lola was our little sweetheart, and words can’t express how much we’ll miss her.
So, I’m writing this post to honor her, in my own tiny way. Of course, it seems silly and almost counterintuitive to dedicate an ice cream to her, as rabbits can’t have dairy, or cake, or eggs, or processed sugar of any kind. But what Lola loved more than anything, aside from fresh banana slices and apple skins, were the leafy green tops of carrots that would just disappear into her mouth the moment she smelled them. But because carrot ice cream (and more particularly, green carrot ice cream) just didn’t seem exciting enough – especially for a girl as exciting as Lola- I settled on carrot cake, which seemed to be much more fitting and ceremonious.
This ice cream was a little more involved that usual, but I didn’t mind; there was something therapeutic about grating the carrots and slowly cooking them over a stove top with bubbling sugar and butter. The end result tasted just like carrot cake, and although she wouldn’t have been able to taste it, something tells me Lola would have been appreciative all the same. Because that’s the kinda gal she was – sweet, supportive, and grateful.
As I spent time wallowing on the couch this weekend, I found myself wondering why humans ever bring pets into their homes in the first place, knowing that the eventual and unavoidable end is so difficult. But then, as he always does, my husband was able to offer words of instant comfort:
It’s because it is just so worth it.
Our pets love us unconditionally, even when we’re grouchy or impatient or look a hot mess, writing term papers at 2 am. Their lives are tragic and wonderful and meaningful, and all we can do is love them, to the best of our humanly ability. Albeit even if in the end, our impact on their lives is minute in comparison to the gifts that they give us each and every day.
This ice cream is delicious, comforting, and fun…something you could eat in a bowl while sitting on the floor, with a rabbit’s paws on your knees, nose wiggling away 🙂
For those of you who have lost a pet, ever – my heart goes out to you in the sincerest of ways.
Happy scooping 🙂
Lola's Carrot Cake Ice Cream
2 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Kosher salt (1 tsp, or to taste)
5 egg yolks
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 block of cream cheese (8 oz)
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup butter
1.5 cups grated carrot
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks slightly until just broken up.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk, cream, sugar, and salt until it just begins to steam.
- A quarter or so cup at a time, begin to ladle the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, and whisk vigorously until combined. Once all of the milk has been incorporated into the eggs, add back to the pan.
- Heat over medium heat until mixture thickens and becomes custard, about 15 minutes or so (or until it thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon). Strain through a fine mesh sieve and pour into a storage container or large bowl.
- Allow the mixture to come to room temperature, and then stir in the vanilla and cinnamon.
- Next, beat in the cream cheese with an electric hand mixer. Store in the fridge until thoroughly chilled, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
- Make the caramelized carrots: melt brown sugar and butter over medium heat (about 5 minutes). Add carrots and walnuts; cook until carrots are soft and walnuts are fragrant (about 10 minutes). Allow mixture to cool completely.
- Right before you freeze the ice cream in your ice cream maker, add the caramelized carrots and walnuts. Churn according to manufacturer’s instructions, then freeze in a container overnight.
- Enjoy 🙂