Flash Fiction: Sun

Our air conditioning isn’t working very well right now, which is pretty aggravating considering that it’s July and I live in Las Vegas. Fortunately, this inspired some (very warm) flash fiction. Enjoy!

Death Valley

They will tell you that the sun is a ball of gases and flames, a steady presence around which the other planets rotate. But the societies of the past knew better. They understood the truth, that the sun is a living entity, a force to be worshiped and appeased.

We stopped worshiping, started studying, and the sun became angry. In retaliation, it threw itself at us, hurtling with ever-increasing speed. The other planets shrank back in fear, recoiling to the outer limits of the solar system. Poor little Pluto just left entirely, never to be seen again.

But not Earth. Earth thinks it knows better.

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Memorable Moments in Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota

Custer State Park | Image by Sarah Vernetti

My family and I just returned home from a trip to Colorado (mostly Denver), Wyoming (mostly just passing through), and South Dakota. Sure, we flew into Denver, but we also managed to put 1,000 miles on a rental car. We checked off two more states in our quest to eventually visit all 50, and we saw some interesting things along the way. Here are the highlights, as conjured up by my slightly overwhelmed, not quite fully caffeinated brain…

My daughter and I took turns holding a tarantula named Rosie at Denver’s Butterfly Pavilion. Since we’re both super skittish about spiders, it was quite an accomplishment. Rosie felt much softer than I expected. I would almost go so far as to call her cute. Almost.

Also at the Butterfly Pavilion, we watched butterflies being released for the first time after emerging from their chrysalises, and one of them landed on my daughter. It did not want to leave. Although my daughter was thrilled at first with her new buddy, she started to get a little annoyed that the butterfly wasn’t moving on.

We went to a Rockies game at Coors Field. It was a high-scoring game lasting almost four hours, and we stayed until the final out.

On the drive from Colorado to South Dakota, we passed through Wyoming. Along the way, we ran into (literally) a bird who didn’t move quite fast enough to avoid our windshield, we spotted someone’s cows who had wandered onto the highway, and we stopped in Cheyenne for lunch at the little Luxury Diner.

In South Dakota, our first task was exploring the town of Custer. I love small towns that have personality and are still home to plenty of locally owned businesses. We also visited Mount Rushmore on a very rainy morning. In fact, we decided to swallow our pride and buy those corny, unfashionable rain ponchos so that our visit wouldn’t be uncomfortable. We got a good look at the four famous gentlemen, but just in time. Within minutes, Mount Rushmore was hidden in a veil of fog. We took a rather rainy stroll near Horsethief Lake before heading to the nearby town of Keystone.

The highlight of our time in South Dakota was our afternoon at Custer State Park. Luckily, the sun came out and we were able to explore the park by car and paddle boat. The park consists of many winding roads and very narrow, one-lane tunnels, so the drive left us breathing a sigh of relief when we returned to the nice, wide streets of Custer.

When we returned to Denver, we took a side trip to Golden, Colorado to ride an alpine slide. This was a new experience for all of us. We took a chair lift up to the top of the hill, and then rode sleds down a concrete track. Afterwards, we left for the airport, experiencing the first round of post-trip malaise. Returning to the real world is always a little tough.

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8 Reasons to Take the Kids to Phoenix

Without a beach or a giant mouse-themed amusement park nearby, Phoenix might not be the first destination that comes to mind for travel-planning parents. However, the city offers plenty of southwestern family fun, from old west experiences to desert adventures. Consider these eight reasons to take the kids to Phoenix, Arizona.

On the road from Las Vegas to Phoenix

On the road from Las Vegas to Phoenix | Image by Sarah Vernetti

1. Yell “All Aboard” at a Railroad-Themed Park
McCormick-Stillman Park in Scottsdale is a must-visit for families. Not only does it feature the usual playground fare, like slides and swings, it also gives kids the chance to explore their love of trains. The park has an outdoor kiddie train and an indoor 10,000-square foot space that houses model trains and other railroad-related displays. Visitors can also hop aboard the park’s carousel or explore the general store.

2. Explore Downtown Scottsdale
Scottsdale’s downtown is divided into distinct districts, including the Arts District, Old Town, and Fashion Square. With plenty of family-friendly resorts located nearby, Downtown Scottsdale is a great place to explore with the kids. In Old Town, head to The Sugar Bowl for a sweet treat. Kids will love the old-fashioned desserts, the opportunity to sit at the counter, and the pink décor. Older kids and adults will want to check out the nearby Arts District, which is home to a wide range of local galleries and offers everything from antiques to contemporary art. If you are in town on a Thursday, be sure to experience the Scottsdale ArtWalk.

3. Learn Something New at the Arizona Science Center
Want to learn about what happens to the trash that’s floating around in space? In the mood to crawl through a life-size model snake? Then a visit to the Arizona Science Center needs to be added to your itinerary. Watch the 3D movie Space Junk and learn about the odd ring of debris that has been left in the cosmos by the space program. Then check out the interactive exhibit The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, which opens in February 2014. Don’t leave the science center until you’ve checked out one of their newest permanent exhibits, The W.O.N.D.E.R. Center, which focuses on the human brain.

4. Experience the Wild West
One of the great things about the American Southwest is that it gives kids the opportunity to learn more about the Old West. For kids who love action, head to Rawhide, a wild-west town with a steakhouse, general store, pony rides, and even faux shoot-outs in the middle of the street.

5. Travel to Nearby Bucket-List Destinations
Phoenix is less than a day’s drive from iconic destinations like the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. No trip to the American Southwest is complete without a visit to one of these famous landmarks. Drive north from Phoenix and then choose your adventure. Explore the Grand Canyon, stopping off in either Williams or Flagstaff before you arrive. Another option is to drive northwest through Kingman, AZ until you reach Hoover Dam in Boulder City, NV. Take a guided tour of the dam, or just walk across it on your own. You’ll also want to check out the Michael O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge that overlooks the dam and offers incredible views. Be sure to take a moment to look for the marker dividing Arizona and Nevada; it’s always fun to stand in two states at the same time.

6. Experience Life in the Desert
Visitors can hike at Camelback Mountain or take a stroll through the Desert Botanical Garden. With a wide range of desert plants like cacti and yucca plants, the botanical garden is a unique outing for those who are accustomed to greener (and less scaldingly hot) pastures.

7. Find Animal Adventures at the Phoenix Zoo and the SEA LIFE Aquarium
Few people would expect to find tropical fish and sea turtles in the desert, but Phoenix is full of surprises. The SEA LIFE Aquarium is home to Jr., a white tip reef shark, Ziva the green sea turtle, and a giant Pacific octopus named Loki. For animal adventures on dry land, try the Phoenix Zoo. Don’t leave before you’ve taken a ride on the zoo train and said hello to the giraffes.

8. Visit Unusual Museums
Phoenix is home to some unusual museums that families won’t find in other destinations. The Hall of Flame Fire Museum is a fun outing for future firefighters. The museum includes antique firefighting equipment and vehicles. For more musically inclined families, the Musical Instrument Museum offers a collection of instruments from around the world. Be sure to check out the wireless audio tour that allows visitors to hear each of the instruments that are on display. Families traveling with younger kids will want to visit the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. What could be more fun than a room full of fort-building supplies?

So, break out of your beaches-and-roller-coasters routine and take the family to Phoenix. Just make sure to pack your sunscreen…and a cowboy hat.

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New Fiction: My Short Story “Deficit” at Black Denim Lit

I’m excited to say that my short story “Deficit” is out now in the June 2014 issue of Black Denim Lit. Read it here: http://www.bdlit.com/deficit.html, and then be sure to check out the other stories in this month’s edition.

My story is set in Las Vegas, but it has nothing to do with the Strip or gambling or nightlife. Hope you enjoy it!

For more Black Denim updates, follow the lit journal on Facebook and Twitter.

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Flash Fiction: Outdoors

Sometimes I come up with little bits of fiction that don’t really lead anywhere, but I still like it and want to share it. Here are 115 words:

Sometimes we go to the sporting goods store. We walk through the long aisles of fishing poles, gaze at the unfamiliar camouflage-colored long underwear. We pretend to hide from the taxidermied big horn sheep. Our daughters ignore the sign that says, “Do not climb.” A salesperson grins. We pretend that we might buy a pontoon boat. Near the register, a pile of cheap mesh hats looks like it’s ready to collapse. My husband buys the green one that has a picture of a catfish on it. He promises that he’ll only wear it when he works in the yard. As soon as we get to the car, he puts it on and takes a selfie.

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An evening nature walk at Hualapai Canyon Trail

We were heading east on Alta Dr. in Las Vegas this past weekend, when I saw a sign pointing north that said “Hualapai Canyon Trail.” I had driven down this route many times, but had never noticed the sign before, nor had I heard of this particular trail. Later that evening, I suggested that our family take an evening stroll.

View from the Hualapai Canyon Trail

The view from Hualapai Canyon Trail, Las Vegas | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Hualapai Canyon Trail makes a fairly small loop–less than one mile–but it is a pleasant place for a walk, jog, or scooter ride (if your kids are into that sort of thing). The trail is nice and wide, and both sides are lined with interesting desert plants. Despite the fact that this trail is located in the middle of the suburbs, we saw plenty of wildlife along the way. We spotted at least 5-6 rabbits, a mouse, a few lizards, and a bunch of birds flying around overhead looking for dinner. We walked right at dusk, which is probably a good time to see the critters when they come out after hiding from the desert heat all day.

This isn’t a hardcore hiking trail like you would find at Red Rock Canyon. However, it is great for an evening stroll or a quick jog when you’re short on time.

The Hualapai Canyon Trailhead is located on Hualapai Way, just north of Alta in Summerlin.

yellow flower, purple cactus

A colorful find along the trail | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Dusk is a beautiful time for a walk | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Near the beginning of the loop trail| Image by Sarah Vernetti

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The park that locals forgot

Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Park isn’t particularly grand compared to some of Nevada’s other parks, nor does it take much time to explore. Maybe that’s why Las Vegas’ oldest structure seems to fly under the radar in the minds of most locals.

Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Park

Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Park | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Located across the parking lot from Cashman Center, next door to the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, and down the street from the Neon Museum, the fort is a convenient activity to add to your downtown Las Vegas agenda.

After you pay your very reasonable admission fee ($1 per adult), you can venture outside to see a reconstruction of the fort’s large gates, the remains of the adobe fort building, and the site of the original ranch house. Or, you can explore the small indoor museum, which includes a 10-minute educational film about the history of Las Vegas, and exhibit space related to the settlement of Southern Nevada.

Although none of this is particularly earth-shattering, it is worth a look. After all, the perception seems to be that Las Vegas shuns history and lives by the mantra “newer is better.” Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort provides a reprieve from the fancy/shiny/loud aesthetic of other parts of the city.

This isn’t the glorious Clark County Museum, which offers a more comprehensive history of the region. However, it is a significant site, and any true Las Vegan should make a pilgrimage here to gain a better understanding of how the city began.

Considering that a visit requires such a small investment of time and money, why not?

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Don’t wait for Tokyo

My husband and I were in our mid-twenties. He was still in school. I had just finished grad school and was working an hourly job that I enjoyed but that didn’t exactly earn me exorbitant amounts of money. In a fit of irresponsibility, we decided that we wanted to go to Japan, and we wanted to go now.

We found a good deal on a travel package to Tokyo. We booked it on our credit card, did a ton of research in the months leading up to our departure, and off we went. We didn’t do a guided tour, we didn’t meet up with friends once we got there, and neither of us could speak a word of Japanese.

I can’t tell you my favorite song, and I can’t narrow down my list of favorite movies to just one. But I can say with absolute certainty that Tokyo is the most wonderful, spectacular, there-aren’t-superlatives-to-adequately-describe-it place I’ve ever visited.

We were in awe of everything: riding the subway (especially at rush hour), green tea ice cream, Italian food that did not seem like Italian food, stores dedicated exclusively to selling colorful condoms, baseball games where the fans cheered the entire time rather than sitting back and halfway-watching the game, a wedding procession at a shrine, streets that were eerily clean, signs written in English that made us laugh, public toilets that had a million buttons, businessmen who took off their shoes and lounged in the grass at the park, $5 sodas, the filming of some TV show where everyone was wearing white.

Vending Machine, Japan

Vending machine in Tokyo, Japan | Image by NV

We visited museums and took in cultural sights and ate Japanese food. It was the little things, the glimpses of daily life that made an impression on me. I’m not sure if I’ll ever have the opportunity to go to Tokyo again. That is one darn long flight, and it isn’t particularly budget-friendly either, but I’m so glad I went at least once. I’m thankful we threw caution to the wind and didn’t sit around saying we’d go “someday.” Every now and then, the wise thing to do is not to wait.

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Spring: recent traveling, writing, reading

I’m starting a new quarterly series here on my blog where I’ll recap what I’ve been up to in terms of…you guessed it!…traveling, writing, and reading. Welcome to the first installment.

Travel

In March, we went to Cubs spring training in Phoenix, AZ. The Cubs have a new spring training stadium, and it is gorgeous. Designed to look like Wrigley, it feels like a newer, more intimate version of the original. Before the game, we stopped by batting practice, where my daughter and husband caught two baseballs, and we met Cubs second-baseman Darwin Barney, who just happens to be my daughter’s favorite player.

We also spent an evening in Tempe, walking around the downtown area that almost feels like a small college town. We ate dinner, grabbed some ice cream, and called it a night so that we could get up early the next morning and explore McCormick-Stillman Park before we had to leave for home.

Spring also took us to Death Valley National Park in California. This is one of my favorite national parks that I’ve visited. This was our second visit to the park, and we spent our time at Furnace Creek (including the Borax Museum), the Mesquite sand dunes, and Dante’s View.

Writing

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been working on some fiction and creative non-fiction lately. But I haven’t forgotten travel writing or my other freelance projects. I’ve written a few items for Desert Companion (in the family-focused special issue and the May issue), and I covered Victoria, British Columbia for the April issue of Luxury Las Vegas.

Reading

I just finished the novel The Vanishing by Wendy Webb, which I enjoyed. I wouldn’t rank it up there among my favorites, but it was an entertaining read. Last night, I opened The Best American Noir of the Century, edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler. Call me crazy, but I don’t read short story collections in order. Of course I had to jump right ahead to Joyce Carol Oates’ “Faithless.”

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Journal: New Things

I’m trying something new. I am *deep breath* submitting my fiction and creative non-fiction to publications. *dramatic pause*

Now, if you’re thinking that doesn’t sound like a big deal since A.) I’m a writer and B.) My writing has been published before, let me clue you in.

I’m of the opinion that fiction writing, when done publicly, is like allowing your skull to be pried open and your thoughts examined.

That’s not to say that there is always truth in fiction. However, I do think there is something very personal about fiction writing. Although I’m certainly not an expert when it comes to crafting short stories, I do read a lot, and I think that good fiction taps into a part of the writer’s personality that doesn’t necessarily come across at PTA meetings and networking events.

So, wish me luck on this venture, as I attempt to be brave and expand my writing repertoire. I already received my first rejection, so things are going swimmingly.

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