Bridging the Gap Between Nature and Tech

10 Ways To Bridge The Gap Between T...

Trying to eliminate screen time for a screen-free week seems terribly unrealistic, to me. As the mom of two techie boys, I have doubts about how tak...

April Reflections & Explorers Log

There are times.. April 2015 Reflec...

Hi y’all! I’m treating myself and my friends to monthly reflections, this year. These are meant to help me keep track and make sense of things...

Outdoor Family Mother's Day Ideas

Outdoor Family Mother’s Day I...

Mother's Day is right around the corner. I'm a mom and I can tell you that I'm not really big into receiving gifts for Mother's Day. What I am inter...

plastic bags are the worst practical jokesters

Funny Not Funny Reasons to Bring Yo...

Funny Not Funny Reasons to Bring Your Own Bag I finally got fed up with flimsy single-use plastic shopping bags and bought some fantastic bags to t...

Travel & Adventure

Three FREE things all kids need to do in National Parks

3 FREE things for kids to do at National Parks + Giveaway

Kids To Parks Day is May 16! Many have already pledged to celebrate by visiting parks with children, so I'm sharing some of my favorite FREE things to do in our National Parks. Family travel isn't always easy. It takes skill to plan a...

Parks reveal the hidden gems of family travel and local adventures

Parks reveal the hidden gems of family travel and local adventures

Parks. They come in all shapes and sizes from the neighborhood playground to hundreds of acres of pristine natural heritage. They focus on different aspects from historic preservation, to conservation and family fun. They offer a range of...

10 Ways To Bridge The Gap Between Tech and Nature

Bridging the Gap Between Nature and Tech
Trying to eliminate screen time for a screen-free week seems terribly unrealistic, to me. As the mom of two techie boys, I have doubts about how taking away screens benefits children’s high-tech lives. There was a time when I attempted to limit screen time, just like my own mom did. But, that time passed long ago as advancements in technology make it possible to bring our devices out into the great outdoors.

Now, I offer opportunities for self-regulation and ideas for incorporating bits of technology into other activities. My oldest son is a total geek for screens. Many of his passions are contained in this digital world and by taking that away, I’m not teaching him how to self-regulate his screen time OR giving him ways to incorporate his passion for high-tech gadgetry into his great outdoor adventures.

Nature Online

Bridging the gap between nature and tech

I mean, what is THAT?

My son just happens to be very knowledgeable about the creepy crawlies of this world. He loves the animals that make other people cringe.. snakes, ugly deep sea critters, and insects. Many of these freaks of nature are inaccessible to him. But, he’s got that Crocodile Hunter attitude about these monster-like critters that suddenly makes them seem kind of lovable.

He owes a lot of that knowledge to streaming documentaries, YouTube clips and google searches. Without his screens, his extensive knowledge of these creatures simply wouldn’t exist. So, there you have number one – Explore websites, documentaries, and youtube clips that feature the creatures of your child’s interest. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of people are out there video clipping it and bringing it to YouTube, these days. Instead of taking that away, I think it’s more important to show them how to sift through the unlimited amounts of information and misinformation, how to double-verify data, how to choose reputable sources, and bust myths. You’re raising a critical thinker! 

There are also hundreds of species identification websites that I use almost on a daily basis. When we’re outside and stumble upon some funky looking bug or want to know more about the habits of a certain lizard, we look it up! It’s not always possible to search for it immediately. So, I take photos or video and we spend some time browsing identification websites to learn more about what we saw. It’s easy! Here are a few websites to get you started.

1. Insect Identification – This website includes a bug finder, photos, and information about tons of ants, flies, water bugs, butterflies, even spiders, and more.

2. What Bird? This site offers a huge database of birds and allows us to search by colors, size, location, and more. It comes in really handy.

3. Salamander Identification – A great site that allows visitors to input characteristics of salamanders to learn more about what they saw.

4. Plant Identification – Here’s a whole host of websites dedicated to helping folks identify the plants they find.

Bringing Technology Outside

I’m a big fan of field guides. They help me identify plants, insects, and animals that I encounter along the trail. So, I’ve downloaded several field guide apps to reduce the weight I carry around. I currently have Audubon Birds, Trees, and Butterflies installed on my phone. These apps offer full-color photographs and recordings of animal sounds, easy-to-use questionnaires that guide the user toward identification by encouraging observation skills, and a variety of information about species from what they eat to where they live. The Audubon Birds app includes recordings of bird songs and calls that real birds will interact with. I’ve used the recordings to bring birds to the branches directly over our head to get a closer look. The Audubon apps are even linked to NatureShare, a project that allows users to snap photos of their sightings and report them to the community. The practice of logging bird and insect sightings has helped scientists gather information, locate communities of endangered species and even discover new ones! [Click here]

Project Noah is a mobile tool to explore and document wildlife, as well as harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere. From the website, “Project Noah is mobilizing a new generation of nature explorers and helping people from around the world appreciate their local wildlife. Our community is harnessing the power and popularity of new mobile technologies to collect important ecological data and help preserve global biodiversity.” [Click here]

Geocaching: Bridging the gap between nature and tech

One cool geocache we found at the park

There are a few high-tech games out there, now. People use their phones and/or GPS devices to locate hidden, “treasure boxes,” in Geocaching. Geocaching has led us to find some pretty neat places to explore, right around the corner from our home – and, local secrets when away on trips.

Players compete against other teams for world domination, in a game called Ingress, that requires team members to actually visit destinations.

I’ve only recently been made aware of another nature+tech game called, “Agents of Nature,” and haven’t been able to fully explore it. But, it’s designed to connect people with the environment and explore parks while solving nature challenges.

Many National and State Parks have their own special apps! These apps offer lots of information about our favorite places to explore from trail maps to upcoming events and even camping reservations, in some places. Some of these specific park apps include information about common animals found in the area, glimpses into the history of the park and more. [Click here for a list of 50 State Parks Apps]

Use your phone as a magnifying camera to get up close and personal with the tiny world. I own a Samsung Note and the camera is fantastic. I zoom in as close as I can to get a magnified look at the little bugs we run across. Yes, a standard magnifying glass can also accomplish this.. But, I can also snap magnified photos and video of them. I do it all the time because it’s fascinating. I probably have hundreds of photos and videos of ants, damselflies, snails, and bees. You can see some of them by following me on instagram.

Thirsty little ant.

A photo posted by Candy Cook (@happytrailtales) on

Take nature notes. Honestly, kids keeping up with a notepad and pencil on a long hike or an overnight camp is unlikely to gain a lot of enthusiastic support. But, keeping their notes and observations via high-tech devices and an app like Evernote suddenly makes nature journaling worth their while. It also gives them access to their notes from the computer and other devices for future purposes and prevents the pages from being lost or damaged. Phones like my Samsung Note or tablets even give them the opportunity to sketch observations.

Protect your mobile devices from damage in the great outdoors

It can be scary to take your high-tech devices out into the natural world and use them as tools. But, today’s technology is advancing and it’s not as likely for your devices to be destroyed by water damage. I dropped a Samsung Galaxy s2 in the Atlantic Ocean, where it was completely submerged, and my kids still use it to play! There are some important steps I took to ensure it’s survival, though. Immediately after retrieving the phone from the Ocean, I popped out the battery, memory card and sim card. I set them all out to dry in a safe place for the duration of our camping trip. It took a couple of days to recover, but it worked. My kids have never dropped or broke anything important out on the trail, but I have. They’re more trustworthy with our precious technology than meets the eye. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to take precautions like using a protective cover, wrist strap, or neck strap and having waterproof bags ready for changes in the weather. 


5 Things You Should Definitely Say To A (new) Widow

5 Things You Should DEFINITELY Say to a (New) Widow

I take issue with the wildly popular & widely shared articles titled, “what NOT to say,” to someone. It’s a huge annoyance to me. But, I’ve never actually felt that one pertained to me until I ran across this, “5 things not to say to a new widow.” Maybe I don’t count as a, “new widow,” anymore. But, four years later, the pain is fresh – all I have to do is close my eyes and imagine his greasy mechanic’s hands or watch his son walk with the same gait and it all comes rushing back. In fact, there are still nights, when falling asleep, I’m startled by the shocking idea that he’s gone and never coming back.

I don’t find these, “What NOT to say,” articles very helpful. Although, I do appreciate some of the insights provided by the author of, “5 things not to say to a new widow.” I have been inspired to offer some really important things you should DEFINITELY say to a new widow, or ANY widow.. for that matter, because that pain flares up at random and a widow never really knows when that’s going to happen or how long it will last.

1. Have you eaten? The all important question. It may not be an issue for everyone, but it could be and this simple question can clear up a lot of problems. People who haven’t eaten are more irritable, susceptible to mood swings, easy to anger and low on energy – add to that dealing with the loss of a spouse and it’s a recipe for disaster. I’m very grateful to have had someone gently suggesting that I continue my daily habit of eating a banana for breakfast. She was very kind and I would have gone without eating for days if it hadn’t been for a simple reminder. It just was not important, not on my mind and the hunger pangs are no match for the agonizing pain that was taking my full attention.

2. Let me help you….. (fill-in-the-blank with a specific task) You know, because my spouse just died and I’m not going to remember all the things that need to be done… that are normally getting done.. that are piling up, so as soon as all the hoopla is over I have a huge mess on my hands. Let me help you by grabbing some groceries. Let me help you by doing your laundry. Let me help you by watching the kids for a minute. Let me help you by sweeping the floor, or whatever.

3. Let’s go out to dinner, tonight (or out for a walk or anywhere) This is especially helpful AFTER a couple weeks, or even a month has passed. You will find many of the friendly faces, so eager to be there in the first days, have moved on to attend to their lives and our widow is here…. alone… especially during those moments that used to be reserved for their spouse.. evenings, date nights, off days..  Honestly, my favorite time of the day was sitting on the front porch waiting for Dave to drive up, home from work… best moments of my life with him, reunited after the day away. Out of habit, I continued to wait… every day… I didn’t even realize it, until one day I was sitting there, in the evening… and I questioned what was I doing out here? Oh yeah…. it’s time for Dave to come home. Don’t leave your widow friend sitting on the porch all by themselves…. go wait with them or take them out.
4. Wow, you sit/talk/stand/move/do something just like Dave (or enter deceased spouse name) I can’t tell you how good it made me feel to know that somebody else recognized David in me.. in the way I talk, sat, moved… because that’s part of me now, forever. Notice it. Notice the little things about that person that have made their way into the personality of the one that’s still here without them. It might take them years to notice on their own, or maybe never.. and it’s a very comforting idea.

5. Ask questions… Ask questions… a million questions. Ask about the love, ask about the person, ask ask ask… don’t be afraid, be interested. Show them that somebody wants to hear the amazing, the humdrum, the regular and glorious things about the one they love with all of their being. Cause they still do, for the rest of their lives. Forever. That person doesn’t ever go away for them. They’re still here…. seemingly invisible to everyone else… they still stand together, forever.

There are times.. April 2015 Reflections & Explorers Log

April Reflections & Explorers Log

Hi y’all! I’m treating myself and my friends to monthly reflections, this year. These are meant to help me keep track and make sense of things. I am one of those creative types that flourish in clutter and chaos. I’m also the first to admit that my way is no way to keep any sort of order.

Our April reflection is courtesy of Mt. Tabor Park Mountain Biking Trails
“There are times to stay put, and what you want will come to you, and there are times to go out into the world and find such a thing for yourself.” ― Lemony Snicket, Horseradish

April’s reflection courtesy of Mt Tabor Park Mountain Bike Trails

A video posted by Candy Cook (@happytrailtales) on

April is a time of change! I turned 35, early in the month. To be honest, I spent most of April doubting and questioning the trail I’m blazing through life. The most prominent feeling during month is one of disconnection. I don’t really want to talk about it. So, on to more interesting stuff. April 3 & 4 We stayed the night at Wyndham Peachtree Hotel and completed the Peachtree City GeoTour.  It was pretty fun! Best time I’ve had geocaching in quite a while.

April 4
Grazing Here – Here’s J Bear giving the thumbs up for the great burgers we had at Grazing Here. Excellent place to get some Georgia Eats.

Grazing Here

April 12
Stone Mountain Park – We visited Stone Mountain Park for Spring FUN Break and finally got to the petting zoo and completed the Mini Golf Course.

The old-timey twitter.. I mean Telegraph office at Stone Mountain Parks mini golf course. Lol #happy

A photo posted by Candy Cook (@happytrailtales) on

April 23 Mt. Tabor Park Mountain Bike Trails – Took a nice hike on the Mountain Bike Trails at Mt Tabor Park, where I videoclipped April’s reflection at the creek. -insert mt tabor- April 24 Allatoona Creek Mountain Bike Trails – Excellent riding day at Allatoona Creek Mountain Bike Trails.

Not gonna lie, there was a lot of garfielding out in the mountain bike trail today. #mtb #mountainbiking #happy

A photo posted by Candy Cook (@happytrailtales) on

April 25
Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center – I got my Growing Up Wild certification to teach facilitators.

April 30
Blue Ridge, GA – Drove up to Blue Ridge to scope out some property. Honestly, this is just too scary for me. I’m not sure I’ll ever accomplish it.

Not gonna lie, there was a lot of garfielding out in the mountain bike trail today. #mtb #mountainbiking #happy

A photo posted by Candy Cook (@happytrailtales) on

Outdoor Family Mother’s Day Ideas

Outdoor Family Mother's Day Ideas
Mother’s Day is right around the corner. I’m a mom and I can tell you that I’m not really big into receiving gifts for Mother’s Day. What I am interested in is doing something special, together. It doesn’t even have to be out-of-the-ordinary, but it does help if there is some thoughtfulness behind the activity. So, here are some fun Mother’s Day ideas for spending time with moms.

Artsy / DIY Mom

Take mom (and her camera) out for a day at the gardens. She’ll love spending the day snapping pics of flowers. But, be prepared – she’s gonna want pics of you, too. Around Atlanta, visit Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Smith-Gilbert Gardens, Gibbs Gardens, or Callaway Gardens.

Break out mom’s art supplies & create, together. It’s ok if you don’t think of yourself as artsy. It’s about mom! Draw, paint, sculpt, and craft your little heart out for her. Some great ideas for outdoor arts and crafts are building & painting birdhouses, painting terracotta pots, or packing up the supplies to sketch & paint at a local park.

Stroll an Arts & Crafts Festival! Find a nearby arts festival, for Mother’s Day Weekend, and make a special day out of admiring the beautiful artwork and handicrafts of local artisans. Around Georgia, go to the Dunwoody Art Festival, Barefoot in the Park (Duluth), Chastain Park Arts Festival (Atlanta),  Colors Festival of Arts (Roswell), St Simons Island Arts & Crafts Show.

Visit one of the free art museums on this list of 125 Free Museums around the South.

Outdoor Family Mother's Day Ideas
Gardening Mom

Play in the garden, together. This pinterest board has lots of garden activities kids and moms can enjoy, together.

Instead of cut flowers, pick up a potted plant.. It could be flowers, tomatoes or herbs, that she can transplant to her garden. Then, of course, help her do it!

Weed the garden, read & picnic together in mom’s own garden! There’s really nothing I like more than spending time with my sons. Plan to spend the day in mom’s garden by helping her weed, reading a special card and having a picnic!

Nature Mom

Visit a State or National Park near you. Some Georgia State Parks have special Mother’s Day events. FDR State Park hosts a Mother’s Day Picnic, Hard Labor Creek is guiding a Mother’s Day Paddle, and Chattahoochee Nature Center offers free admission to moms on Mother’s Day.

Outdoor Family Mother's Day IdeasTake your mom on a free hike. Don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars to watch birds and wildlife and some mom-friendly snacks or a picnic. If you’re in the Atlanta area, you’d do good to check out this list of 52 Hikes less than 2 miles long. You might find a hidden gem she’s never before hiked.

If the weather turns ugly, have a backup plan to watch a few nature documentaries with your mom. You can search Netflix or check out this Free Documentaries website!

Go on a day trip tour of a special natural wonder near you. Living so close to the North Georgia mountains, I’d pick waterfalls. You could visit Amicalola Falls, Vogel Falls, Dukes Creek Falls or check out this list of falls near Dahlonega. Stop by the visitor center in Helen for driving directions to more spectacular waterfalls.

Go camping. If your mom likes camping, visit the Georgia Outdoor Map to locate a campground near you. Hint: Many of the WMA Campgrounds, on the list, are primitive but free.

Active Play Mom

Outdoor Family Mother's Day IdeasBreak out the board games. Every family has a couple board games or a deck of cards lying around. If you don’t, a deck of cards or a game of checkers can be found at the dollar store.

Spend some time outdoors drawing on the sidewalks with chalk & playing hopscotch. Play some childhood games sure to bring back moms memories.. hide n seek, jump rope, and even Mother May I.

Break out the equipment for playing your mom’s favorite sports…. do you have one of those family kits for badminton, croquet, or horseshoes? Or take your ball & bat, tennis rackets or basketball to the nearest court/field!

Visit JAKES Day (May 9) at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Georgia to get your family outdoors & try your hand at a variety of different outdoor recreational opportunities for FREE!

Adventure Mom

Outdoor Family Mother's Day IdeasPull out the bikes and go for a ride. Mountain biking rekindled my love for riding bikes with the family. Check it out. If you’re in Georgia, you can hit the State Parks to join the Muddy Spokes Club, try mountain biking at Blankets Creek, ride the Silver Comet Trail or visit Atlanta Beltline (look in the upper left corner of the site for a link to the map).

Take mom to the Rock Climbing Gym for a fun and challenging experience to remember. In Metro Atlanta, you can choose from Escalade Rock Climbing Gym or Atlanta Rocks.

Rent a kayak or canoe and have a paddling picnic. In Georgia, you can paddle lakes, rivers, salt marshes and swamps.


Funny Not Funny Reasons to Bring Your Own Bag

Funny Not Funny reasons to bring your own bag

Funny Not Funny Reasons to Bring Your Own Bag

I finally got fed up with flimsy single-use plastic shopping bags and bought some fantastic bags to take their place. I did it for selfish personal reasons as much as environmental concerns and I’m happy I did. My shopping experience has definitely improved after kicking the plastic bag habit. Because….

Plastic shopping bags are the worst practical jokesters.

They act like they’re making my shopping trip more convenient. Then, they refuse to carry more than 3-4 things each so I look like a walking trash dump lugging 50 of them on each arm.

plastic bags are the worst practical jokesters

I can almost hear them trying not to snicker as they wait for the perfect moment to break and spill everything out on the ground.

Funny Not Funny Reasons to Bring Your Own Bag

Credit: Home Aloine


I know you’ve seen them windsurfing around parking lots after they’ve completely abandoned their duty, leaving some shopper to figure out how to carry all the items without their precious plastic bag.

Funny Not Funny reasons to bring your own bag

If I make them ride cargo, they throw all the canned goods at the loaf of bread.

If I let them ride in the backseat, they throw all the canned goods at me when I go to unload them.

They shake up the 2-liters in hopes that I’ll want a soda when I get home.

They pretend like they’ll be useful if I save them to use as bathroom trash bags. Then, they hang around getting in the way and cluttering up the kitchen.

Funny not funny reasons to bring your own bag

The act all weak and flimsy, then they take hundreds of years to bake in the sun, crumble into tiny fragments and contaminate everything.

Fortunately, plastic bags come with a printed warning against using them as baby carriers and halloween masks or they’d kill a lot more people. Unfortunately, most animals are illiterate because only fish go to school.

Funny Not Funny reasons to bring your own bag

They impersonate jellyfish to freak out millions of unsuspecting sea animals.. It doesn’t seem to bother them that these stupid practical jokes are killing millions of sea turtles, birds, seals and other creatures.

Plastic Bags are the worst practical jokers

[Credit: Liz Climo ]

Plastic bags are beach bums. Instead of YOU being down on the beach, chilling, building sandcastles, and playing in the ocean.. it’s plastic bags. They’re the most common type of garbage found on the beach during coastal cleanups.

Plastic bags are beach bums

[Photo Credit: Ocean Conservancy International Cleanup]

Plastic bags pretend like they’re being all responsible on their way to the landfill or the recycling center, but they just catch the first breeze back to the beach!

Reusable grocery bags pros and cons

Spoiler: There aren’t any cons. Read more about my experience with stupid plastic bags and switching to my new reusable bags.