Mill Creek Park offers many things to see and do all seasons of the year, but when it comes to photography opportunities, winter is my least favorite. That said, winter always brings a beauty all its own, and of course, my husband Jack and I have made several trips (albeit short ones) through various parts of the park since the weather started to turn nasty a couple of months ago. But today is the first official day of spring, and even though it started off gloomy, there’s a promise of sunshine at some point. I’m so delighted that Daylight Savings Time has returned – and my birthday is tomorrow (well, I’m not so delighted over that event except that I’m still alive and able to kick) – that we just couldn’t pass up a trip to the park today. I’d heard there are a few crocuses in bloom, and we wanted to take a peek at the revamped Garden Cafe that’s now operated by Friends Specialty.
In fact, I considered venturing down for the grand opening, but it was on St. Patrick’s Day – my favorite “holiday” of the year – and I wasn’t willing to give up our celebratory eating and drinking in our customary fashion. For the record, that included Up A Creek Tavern in Howland Township (for delicious Reuben sandwiches at lunchtime), StoneYard Grill & Tavern in Niles, Quaker Steak and Lube in Austintown and, later in the day, Gasoline Alley in Niles for garlic wings and potato skins accompanied by our friends Jerry and Barb from Niles.
Just a few days earlier we’d made our most recent trip through the park, when the temperature was pushing 60 degrees and the sun was shining. Walkers, joggers and bikers were out in force and most of the snow and ice was melted. Still, we found vestiges of it everywhere, including mostly frozen lakes. No such luck today, though – no sun, and while it wasn’t so cold that I was forced to put on socks, I did have to give in and add a lightweight jacket. As was our plan, we pulled into the visitor center parking lot; and what to my wandering eyes did appear but buds – on the “Betty” magnolia tree near the front entrance. Hooray, I almost shouted – maybe spring really is getting serious about making a comeback!
Other places were just as promising; I didn’t see any crocuses yet, but bright green shoots poked their heads through the dirt in several of the flower beds. Better still was another sign of spring – this one literal: Tulips have been planted. I still remember the visual impact of the all-gold and white tulip display on the 50th anniversary of Fellows Riverside Gardens in 2008, if I recall correctly. What an awesome sight! Now I’m eagerly awaiting this year’s display.
Inside the center, we checked out the Garden Cafe as planned, noting some interesting offerings like roasted root veggies over risotto and a panini with Prosciutto, goat cheese, fig jam and caramelized onions. One of these days we’ll stop in early enough so I can try one of the coffee varieties. They all sound good and I’m a coffee freak, but only first thing in the morning when it’s usually three cups; never, ever do I drink it with food. The new furniture is lovely, and while it’s not quite as “outdoorsy” as the steel gray metal ice cream-style tables and chairs of old, it looks both inviting and comfortable. A couple of tables are placed in the lobby just outside the dining area as well.
Still another plus: I didn’t notice a single misspelled word on the menu. That’s probably not very important to other folks, but I, a professional editor, continue to be amazed at the errors on the menus even at national chain restaurants. I’ve always thought I could clean up financially if anybody would be willing to pay me to look over their menus before sending them to print. That won’t be a happenin’ thing anytime soon, I’m afraid – certainly not amid the pencil point-thin profit margins in the restaurant industry – but I keep my fingers crossed anyway.
As for flowers, the orchids are still there and for the most part in good shape, and the amaryllis that were in the bud stage last time we were in the Library are blooming like crazy now. In the various nooks on the walls, new and artful arrangements really catch the eye. I don’t know who does them, but whoever it is has some serious flower-arranging talent.
As usual, we stopped in the gift shop, and also as usual, I lamented the change to more garden-oriented items that excludes the unique jewelry, purses and scarves. Now it’s sort of a blend of Crate and Barrel and Pier One with a touch of Hobby Lobby. Don’t get me wrong – there’s an almost endless display of really neat decorative and functional items here at reasonable prices, such as Sora pods for just $3 each and some burlap napkins set off by tiny baskets of blue robin’s eggs. It’s just that 1) I don’t have a garden (and even if I did I’d forget to take care of it) and 2) our house and patio decor just aren’t the right “fit” for these kinds of things. I think they’re beautiful, but they’d look a whole lot better in somebody else’s home.
Outside the shop, though, I found a sale of wine-related goodies at 50% off – getting rid of the non-garden-related items, I suppose – and two things stopped me dead in my tracks: A beautiful black decanter and a nifty cheese board in the shape of a wine bottle with a cutting knife. Now here’s the really good part; when I showed them to Jack, I left him to go look at the orchids once again. Next thing I knew, he’s walking out of the gift shop with a big package in his hands. Knowing I loved them, he bought both for my birthday tomorrow. Have I mentioned that he’s a sweetie? Just one reason I’ve decided to pick up the option for another year on Aug. 18, when we celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary.