Minimizing The Digital Life: DirtNKids Favorite Apps

“When we hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope we use.” ~ Joseph Stalin

I’m a computer girl, that is, I prefer the desktop with its enlarged screen, QWERTY keyboard, and comfy office chair. The smartphone entered my life several years late in the game (2013), but quickly it became apparent how it could enhance the digital life.

Enough of my time is already spent on a screen, whether it’s administering the on-line school or communicating with teachers. But with the kids splitting me in two with daily school activities — picking up, dropping off, and the like — I’ve come to rely on the smartphone while out and about.

But I refuse to let it own me. Of all the apps I’ve tried in three years (most of which have also been removed), here are the favorite helpful handful that remain.


Note: No Facebook Or Twitter
Snowy Plover – Cutie Background

WordPress – Free!

The bulk of DirtNKids content is created with a desktop PC, but once the post is published, it is managed with the WordPress App. Exploring others’ blogs, reading posts, or keeping up with those whom I follow — what I call consuming content — mostly gets done on the phone app. Unlike a desktop PC, it keeps me outside with nature and off my butt.

Many of you like like the short-sweet posts with just a picture and few words. This app lets me use the iPhone’s decent built-in camera and quick-post option (here and here) to post right where I am, without lugging the big lens.

I credit WordPress’ Edin Theme to the best flexibility for my content, and for a limited time, viewing the blog on a desktop PC (paired with Adobe Flash) even let’s you see some snow in Texas.

Paperless – $2.99

I love to list, whether it’s for packing up for a road trip or getting the shopping done. The items needed are placed right on top, removed when ‘tapped’ for later.

Sometimes, there’s no time left for the grocery — no problem. I just send Hubs the checklist straight from within the app to his work email. He remains to be a 20th century holdout: he has no mobile phone at all. But he can print the list before he leaves.


Honey Do List
Alphabetized by Grocery Section
Just walk, get and check!

Someone asked me if I use Paperless for listing bird species every year. I have another app for that.

iBird Pro – $14.99

ID apps replace heavy, bulky field guides, freeing up space in the backpack for camera and basic hiking gear. When birding, iBird Pro provides details in the palm of your hand, be it a bird’s range, physical features, song recordings, or a search based on distinct features (all the yellow birds in Texas in spring).

It has aided me in the field more times than I can count!!

The ‘Favorites lists’ help organize my birds for the year. In fact, I build the blog page directly from this as it keeps duplicates from occurring and organizes them how I like so I know what’s left to find.


Only 253 Species?
Better Get Birding!

Paired with iPhone’s Voice Memo app, I will dictate the bird’s features while viewing through the field lens (so not to forget later) or record the bird’s song straight away if he happens to be singing. All at the touch of a finger.

It’s rare these days that a correct ID requires Stokes, Audubon, Peterson, or Sibley guides — some of which I used to carry with me. Those books are heavy! No more broke-back. (Just a crick-neck.)

iBird Pro is the most expensive app I own, but it’s been worth every cent.

Voice Memo – Free! (Comes With Phone)

Have you ever been to DirtNKids’ Soundcloud? All of the recordings were from iPhone’s Voice Memo app. It is excellent for recording / editing nature sound tracks. Try it some time. Be sure to put your back to the wind when you do, and connect with your world.

In case you were wondering, frog sex has to be my favorite thing to record. Yeah, I’m that weirdo.

I don’t know about you, but I talk to myself a lot, in the car, on the trail, in a store, and not always in my head. I use Voice Memo for those occasions, and most people think I’m just talking on the phone like everyone else. So I don’t look like a weirdo there.

Waze – Free!

My best friend recommended this navigation crowd-sourced app to me this year, and I absolutely love it! It has made driving into the Houston area much easier for me considering that the 13-yr-old minivan does not have inboard navigation like the Hummer does.

Like any other map system, the addresses all get entered into the app while still in the driveway. I select my preferred route, whether I want to pay tolls or not, and BAM. I’m on my way.

It’s as easy as being bossed by your wife from the front seat. (Scott says I do that concurrently. Some habits are had to break.)

Hands-free Mounting

At My Fingertips
(And Eyes Always On The Road)

The nifty Velcro mounting (free!) coupled with upgraded Bluetooth radio system ($150, installed), I can easily report a lane closing or traffic jam with a three-finger tap and my voice. Waze will kindly speak the directions to me through my speakers (over my Podcast or radio) or warn me of any hazards ahead. My kids love the ‘Boy Band’ sing-song voice the best.

Likewise, with real-time input from other Wazers, my route gets updated and routed around the offending problem. No matter how wacky it seems Waze leads me to a destination, I will always follow. Waze gets me there efficiently and on time — without sitting in traffic.

I drive like a Grandma, so I actually like it when law breakers get pulled over and ticketed. I generally don’t report police on the Waze app unless they are also blocking a lane and causing an inadvertent pile-up (often they will leave their door open into the lane forcing drivers to slow way down).

Some think that reporting police sightings puts our law enforcement officials at risk. So, note to police: pull your guy over into a parking lot or onto a shoulder or into the business lane if you can and you won’t get reported.

Podcasts – Free! (Comes With Phone)

I load ’em up at home on Wi-Fi, and listen through my car speakers or in the yard or while waiting anywhere at my leisure. Here are my favorites in no particular order:

  • Hidden Brain
  • Engines of Our Ingenuity
  • The Minimalists
  • Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me…
  • Diane Rehm Show
  • Conservation Matters
  • The Conservative Conscience
  • TED Radio Hour
  • Nerdette

What’s best and unlike TV or radio, there are no annoying ads.

SmugMug – Free!

We humans being visual beings, pictures speak a thousand words. If you’ve been following DirtNKids long, you know that just about all my posts are peppered with photos.

SmugMug is another service that I pay for to store and display all of my digital photo and video content. Like my chunky wedding album, I will one-day pass it to my kids and they can do with it what they please.


A Few of DirtNKids Public Galleries

SmugMug is about way more than storage. It puts you in charge of how you want to present your content, minimizing all those photo boxes to just the smartphone in your hand. Uploading is a cinch directly from the smartphone’s photo albums. With the subscription is shared knowledge on photo processing, including tips and tricks for popular post-processing software.

I’ve already learned a lot thanks to their informative videos. I highly recommend the service to professional nature photographers (which I’m not).

When I’m having a rough day, all that is required is a flip through one of my pretty bird albums or to re-visit a favorite vacation spot — right in the palm of my hand.

No need to dust off an album first.

What’s your favorite smartphone apps?

15 thoughts on “Minimizing The Digital Life: DirtNKids Favorite Apps

  1. I still don’t own a smartphone and love it! I manage to get along just fine without it. nice to see you minimizing your use unlike most people these days 🙂


    1. Another holdout! I love it, Hazel. None of my kids have one; they are the only ones at school who don’t; and doing fine — better than their peers, even — without the added distraction.

      I failed to mention Sudoku, one of my favorite puzzle games to play. I used to play it on paper until the smartphone app. Now I can sit down and play anytime without grabbing my glasses and a pencil/eraser. No book to carry anymore!

      Recently, I used the smartphone to crop several of my favorite bird faces, then proceeded to upload them to SmugMug so I’d have a pretty album to flip when I need a pick-me-up. Took me less than half an hour and a cup of coffee — and I never got out of my chair. I like it so much, I think I will share! Tee hee.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your iBird app is scrolled to a section showing the great blue heron. I’ve seen that species in Austin and I also got surprisingly close to one on Muir Beach in California seven weeks ago.

    My iPhone maps apps (Apple and Google) won’t talk if Bluetooth is turned on and also won’t if the phone is plugged into the car’s USB. I don’t know why Apple and Subaru can’t work this out between them.


    1. We see GBH every day. He’s a yard regular! In fact, he’s usually a January 1st sighting and gets our New Year started off right. Here’s one I shot from the driver’s seat Saturday. Got himself a BIG OLE fish. Didn’t wait around long enough to see him gobble it down.

      I too have intermittent issues with BT in the car. It usually rights itself with a cycle once-through the inputs. For some reason, Siri doesn’t like to talk through my speakers, so I only ask her (it?) to do things like ‘call home’ or ‘read text’ when on the go. Purposeful computer-ing only gets done when pulled off in a parking lot.

      I dream of having a Subaru one day…4WD with snow tires…


      1. Your grebe is a true opportunistic carnivore just like GBH. Only the grebe does most of its foraging under water, like the cormorant. He would have no problem throwing back that big frog!


  3. Gosh, where to begin. I use my (4 year old Android) phone in lots of different ways. I’m on the PC right now because my keyboarding is better than my finger/thumbing. Yes, my phone is for entertainment (reading, videos, music, etc.) but also communication, travel, and keeping track. Email? sure? pictures? you betcha, maps (Gooogle), actually lots of Google (Gmail, Keep, Drive, CALENDAR!!!), Kindle Reader, password keeper (Keepass linked to all devices via Dropbox), clock/timer/alarm, account(s) authenticator, home security, weather, Stellarium (planetarium), booking/reviewing hotels & restaurants, shopping. Oh, and guess what? IT’S A PHONE TOO! LOLOLOLOL. I use all this stuff at least monthly, a lot of it at least weekly, and a whole bunch of it daily. I don’t like to leave home without it, I admit. But I turn it off when I play golf and I don’t use it except hands-free bluetooth in the vehicles.


    1. I type soooo much faster and with less mistakes on a keyboard than with finger/thumb!! WOW, Steve. You use yours way more than I do! Sometimes I forget to check to see if someone texted, usually when they call my house phone to ask, “Did you get my text?” and the answer is clearly NO.

      Hope you and fam are doing well. Talked to Cousin Rick this weekend. So tragic about Bobbie, but I think his family moving in with Big B & Lori are really helping with the healing. I hope to get up there soon. My best to all of you. X


      1. Y’know, I was not sure if you had heard about Bobby. Did not know about the family moving in w Lori & Big B but not too surprised. We’re all great here. G’kids are almost 3 and 6. Man! Time flies! We were near you recently (son lives 2 miles from GWB park) but it was a very short stay. Might be back in March and would love to see you. Hi to all!


      2. We would love to see you too! Please do let us know if you’re even within an hour of here. We’ll make it a point get together. Happy New Year, Steve.


  4. Absolutely love this post! I depend on many of the same apps you mentioned but still need to follow your lead and delete many others that just sit there taking up space. Also learned about a couple that will be most beneficial. Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

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