Wildlife Wednesday: Clear Creek

On Memorial Day we decided to take the kids and join our friends for a day of fun at Clear Creek State Park. Of course the kids and I couldn’t pass up a chance to discover some cool critters, so we brought our nets and buckets along. I have to say, this was one of my favorite outings yet!

After lunch, the kids and I took our friend Tom for a walk along the creek. There had been heavy rains so the water level was pretty high and my expectations for finding many animals was rather low. We walked around a nice little “tide pool” that the rains had produced and noticed a few frogs jump in. As I was attempting to track one down, I noticed a decent size crayfish at the bottom of the pool. With a quick swish of the net we got our man. The kids were understandably a bit timid around this guy’s hefty pincers.

It was a beautiful day for exploring and all four kids got into the action! They chased little bugs in the grass and splashed their hands in the shallow water of the creek, trying to grab water striders and diving beetles. They even chased each other around, trying to capture their siblings in their nets. I love watching them play together!

When we returned to the tide pool, Evan saw a frog jump in and pointed to the spot it burrowed into the mud. I carefully dug my net around the area he indicated and hauled in a pile of mud. Deep within the murky slop was a gorgeous Green Frog.

In between catching things, Ava was a big help; as we walked she carried all of the nets for us. She was so proud of her job!

At one point I went back down the bank to grab another bucket, so as not to mix the crayfish with the frog, and as I walked through some tall grass a cute little garter snake slithered by. I can’t pass up a good garter snake sighting and the kids absolutely love them! I love my little explorers so much!

After awhile we walked across the street to a small ditch running parallel to the creek. It was full from the rain, but other than a few out of reach frogs, there was not much happening. We continued to follow the ditch until we walked through a patch of trees and the ditch opened up to what I consider, the most perfect little pond.

It was so serene and calm, but as we approached, we found that there was much more going on just below the surface!

There were thousands upon thousands of tadpoles wriggling all about! The water was alive and so crystal clear, you could see everything going on in this amphibian’s paradise! There were still jelly egg clumps where the tadpoles had hatched. I loved watching tadpoles turn into frogs as a kid, so I knew we had to bring some home with us. As we scooped up the tiny little pollywogs, something moving in the weeds caught my eye. There, crawling through the vegetation was the prettiest little Eastern Newt!

Once we had our tadpoles and Newt in hand, we called it a day and went back to spend some time with mommy before leaving. When we got them home and into a new bigger container, I noticed a few small minnow like animals with gills wriggling in the water. Turns out that these are Newt larvae; newly hatched newts! So cool!

We had a blast checking out the wildlife that Clear Creek State park had to offer and will surely be back again soon! If you are ever in the area, be sure to check it out! Until next time, happy herping, ya’ll!

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Fathering

There’s this really great thing we have going on at our house – it’s a balance that sometimes seems so messy and so perfect all at the same time. The fathering part of our lives is something pretty special.

We’ve talked about it before, Greg being a stay-at-home-dad. It’s a semi-unique challenge as we’ve flipped society’s standards for marriage and family life. We’ve had the fights, we’ve heard the opinions, and for now, Greg being the primary caregiver for our kiddos is what works. (That’s not to say he won’t be getting a job any time soon – we’re trying to attack our debt head-on, so perhaps more to come on that later.)

But this fathering thing that he does is pretty spectacular. Do the dishes and laundry always get done? No, but are the kids happy and healthy? Yes. Do the kids sometimes run to him first when they have a boo-boo? Yes! Does Greg struggle with his role and the challenge it brings for friendships and meeting “my expectations”? Sure, but do we have good thing together? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Greg, I know I don’t always show my gratitude for you being the one who carries the brunt of the household or that I get on you about always being “the good cop” or I don’t understand how it must feel to be financially dependent on me. But what I do know is that your fathering heart, your passion for the outdoors and fun, and your way of being you mean so much to me and our kids. Thank you for fathering and doing this crazy life with me. Happy Father’s Day!

 

Love the bag Greg is lounging on? You can get your own here!

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Wildlife Wednesday: Snakes

Snakes are some of the most misunderstood and mistreated animals in the world. I think it is safe to say that when most people are asked what animal they are afraid of, snakes are at the top of the list. This is unfortunate considering the ratio of venomous to nonvenomous snakes the average human will encounter in their life.

Snakes

Notice the round eyes on this Eastern Garter snake.

Throughout the US, there are something like 129 different species of snakes, but only 21 are venomous. Here in Pennsylvania we have 21 species, with only 3 being venomous. In this post I am going to share the most common snakes you will encounter and how to determine whether they are venomous or not. 

The Northern Water snake is often mistaken for the Cottonmouth or even Copperhead, however the Cottonmouth does not live in Pennsylvania.

For the venomous side of things, the snakes you may observe are various species of rattlesnake, the cottonmouth(water moccasin), the copperhead, and the coral snake. All except the coral snake are considered “pit vipers” which means that they have heat sensing “pits” between the eyes and nostrils on either side of their head. When determining whether a snake is dangerous or not, all pit vipers have the same characteristics. Aside from the pit(because nonvenomous species like pythons and boas also utilize heat sensing pits), look for a very thick body, large head, and oblong or cat-like eyes.

The coral snake is actually the most venomous snake in North America and follows none of the traditional rules. It is slender, no pits, and has round eyes. There a few species that try to mimic the coral snake, like the scarlet king snake. There are mnemonic devices to help sort it out: “red on black, won’t hurt jack; red on yellow, kills a fellow” is the one i learned growing up.

I have only ever come across the cottonmouth(accidentally caught one as a kid, thinking it was a water snake…oops), and the copperhead. Call me crazy, but I have always wanted to see a rattlesnake and especially a coral snake in the wild.

When it comes to your cuddly nonvenomous pest control snakes, there are quite a few that are commonly found, and it depends on where you live.

Garter snakes are a great choice for introducing kids to slithering reptiles.

Growing up in South Carolina, the most common snakes I found were corn snakes, green snakes, garter snakes, water snakes, king snakes, rat snakes, black racers and pine snakes. For a full list of SC snakes, check out this resource.

See, told you they are cuddly. 😉

Here in Pennsylvania, you may readily spot the Eastern garter snake, Northern water snake, Eastern rat snake, Northern ring-necked snake, Northern red-bellied snake, Eastern milksnake, Northern brown snake, and the Northern black racer. There are several other species which are less common and are either endangered or species of special concern. I have only had the pleasure of encountering the garter and water snakes but am looking forward to finding some of the others. For a full list of Pennsylvania snakes, with pictures and useful information, check out the PA Herps page.

Hopefully this will help you to determine whether the snake in your backyard is worth fussing over. If they look like the ones I have pictured or don’t meet any of the venomous guidelines, please let it be, they are there to help!

Until next time, happy herping, ya’ll!

 

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Wildlife Wednesday: Crooked Creek

*DISCLAIMER* I was recently made aware that catching, handling, or possessing reptiles and amphibians in Pennsylvania without a fishing license is considered unlawful; therefore I will not be taking the kids on any more outings until I can purchase the required documentation. We respect the law here at ‘lil Burghers, however posts written about previous outings will still be published, as this knowledge was not yet made clear to me. I learned a valuable lesson, and since growing up in South Carolina, to my knowledge you did not need a license to catch frogs and snakes, especially for the purpose of study and release, this is all news to me.

This week’s adventure takes us to Crooked Creek State Park. We were accompanied by some friends and their kids. I had only been to this park once before and we didn’t do much exploring so I had no idea what to expect. On this particular day we found a few creatures I had never encountered before!

When we first arrived I suggested starting down at the lake by a boat launch area. We brought a few nets and bunch of buckets (thanks to our kids’ love of pretzels and cheeseballs) and started poking around a little creek.

The kids spotted several minnows and fry but all proved too quick for our small nets. It was very muddy and wet but that did not deter these brave explorers from splashing right in. Even Ava and Isla wanted to get into the action and at a few points tried to follow me into the muck (I was wearing water shoes, they were totally unprepared). Ava loved holding the net and trying to catch all the things!

As I was checking under rocks I heard a kid scream and a lot of excitement so I rushed over to see what happened. They were all pointing in the creek and yelling various “EEEEEWWWWW” “What is that thing!?!” “Kill it with fire”…ok maybe not that last one, but man just look at it, it’s pretty gnarly. Floating in the current was this wicked looking Crane Fly larvae.

After everyone’s shoes were thoroughly soaked, we decided a nice dry hike was in order. As we meandered along the trail we turned over rocks and logs and found many earthworms and slugs. I am so proud of the kids’ endurance, especially the little ones.

We stopped in a clearing and watched in awe as several Bald Eagles soared overhead. I still get chills thinking about it; ‘Merica! Amiright!?!

As we marched on, one of the little girls yelled that she found something. There, in the middle of the trail, was the biggest Millipede I have ever seen. Once she spotted one, then we all started to find them. They are so cool but I warned for them not to touch them with their hands. Millipedes cannot bite or sting, but when threatened, they will first roll into a coil, not unlike a rolie-polie. Their second line of defense is to secrete a toxin from the sides of its body that can result in a skin irritation and in more severe cases, nausea and vomiting.

The kids were growing tired of the trail so we headed back and one of our friends suggested that we check out the Environmental Learning Center. Unfortunately, we arrived to find the building closed, however we were not to be dissuaded. There was a perfectly nice garden to walk around and as I turned over a few pieces of wood this little emerald beauty scurried out.

Our friend pointed out a trail through the woods surrounding the center so we gathered the troops and got to steppin. I always love just simply being in nature, admiring all of the natural beauty around us. Too often we take it for granted. More slugs and worms were found, as well as some nice size locust. All of a sudden, the familiar screech of a very excited little girl yelling “SNAIIIIILLLLLS!”. Sure enough, there were snails EVERYWHERE! I had to watch my step so as not to crush the poor little gastropods.

As we made our way back to the cars, I smiled watching the kids running together, enjoying the wonders of nature and the company of good friends. I will admit, I was slightly disappointed that we did not discover some more impressive animals for the children to see, but that is also the beauty of nature. To quote Forrest Gump’s mama, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”. Until next week, happy herping, Ya’ll!

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Grilled Ice Cream Sandwiches

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #GrillNGear #CollectiveBias 

This summer, make a commitment to your family to spend more time soaking in the sun and the memories together. This recipe for Grilled Ice Cream Sandwiches is perfect to help you stay true to your word!

Summertime is meant for family and fun – but all too often we moms and dads get too busy to stop and enjoy it. This summer, I’ve committed to being more present with my family and enjoying moments spent doing our favorite things – like grilling and enjoying ice cream. Since we are on a tighter than usual budget this year, trips to the local ice cream shop will be less frequent. That’s sparked my creativity and I got to thinking about cookouts completed with a treat – grilled ice cream sandwiches!

Grilled Ice Cream Sandwiches

Because more time for family gets to include my recently retired and new homeowner parents(!), we decided to load the kids in the van and make some memories with Grammie and Pappy. Our only stop along the way was at our local Giant Eagle grocery store to get everything we’d need for a fun evening of grilling.

Our Giant Eagle shopping list included:

  • Lipton Tea Bags
  • Lemon Lemon Sparkling Lemonade
  • Bacon Cheddar Angus Beef Burgers
  • Chips
  • Veggies
  • Breyers Ice Cream (for this recipe)
  • Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies (for this recipe)

After getting our ingredients, we headed to their house and got some sun tea brewing to make “Sparkling Arny P’s” – a twist on your usual Arnold Palmer (half iced-tea and half lemonade).

While letting the kids play, Greg fired up the grill and got the burgers going. I‘m sure know all of the neighbors who could smell the grill were jealous – the Market District line of gourmet burgers from Giant Eagle are incredible! They have the perfect ratio of bacon to cheese to burger and stay juicy. The store tag says “the best Angus beef available” and that has to be true.

(PS – if you are looking for some ways to take these burgers to another level, check out this Giant Eagle Pinterest board for “Summer of Grilling” ideas!)

After we enjoyed dinner, it was my time to shine. My special treat, the Grilled Ice Cream Sandwiches, were about to make their debut. I’m sure at first there were a few skeptics in the crowd, but I just knew the combination of hot cookies and cold ice cream that was just starting to melt was going to taste like perfection.

To get started, I put the cookies in a skillet on the hot grill. I let them heat for just a few minutes – long enough to see the chocolate was starting to melt.

Then quick work began, scooping the ice cream onto a cookie and topping it with another. (Pro tip – if you are like me and like your ice cream to sit out a few minutes before enjoying it, get over that. Have a helper bring you the tub straight from the freezer and have a ice cream scoop with some hot water ready to go. You really want the ice cream to be firm for this step!)

ice cream sandwich ingredients

I had to quickly hand off the treats and let the kids (young and old!) get to enjoying them. Can you blame them?

Grilled Ice Cream Sandwiches

Serves 4

Ingredients (aka #GrillNGear)

  • Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies (or your favorite flavor)
  • Breyers Ice Cream (in your favorite flavor)

Tools

  • Outdoor grill
  • Grill-safe skillet
  • Ice cream scoop

Instructions

  1. Place the cookies flat side up in a skillet.
  2. Place the skillet on a grill (about 300-350 F) for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Scoop firm ice cream onto one cookie.
  4. Top the ice cream with another cookie.
  5. Enjoy!

If this recipe caught your eye and has you drooling, remember that you can grab everything you need for it at Giant Eagle. They’ll be sharing fun summer grilling recipes all summer long on their Pinterest Page, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you make this over the summer, please share with us and let us know how it tasted.

What do you plan to grill this summer? Does your grill “stop working” in the winter or has it been going all year long?

Can you help us settle a score – are you team cookie dough ice cream or team chocolate truffle? 

 

 

 

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Dad’s Last Service

Many of you know that we’re a faithful family. Perhaps you don’t know that is because Greg and I both were raised in our faiths by parents who are deeply faithful. In fact, I’m a pastor’s kid…even though he’s in retirement mode! Dad’s last service as a United Methodist Minister was on May 14.

It was bittersweet to step into East Brady UMC one last time. This time, it was full of family from both my Dad and Mom’s sides as we worshiped and took in his last sermon as an active minister. I won’t deny that I shed a tear or two, but it was more the church I’m used to with him – he made us laugh and he made us proud.

Once everyone had left, our family walked outside for a quick photo before celebrating both of my parents’ retirement with a picnic.

East Brady and Sligo had been their appointment since 2011 – when Evan was six months old. Their parsonage is all Evan and the Twins have ever known as Pappy and Grammie’s. Arianna and Greg knew the Allegheny River Charge (Ford Memorial, Manorville, Roger’s Chapel, and Union Avenue).

But Dad, Mom, Jack, and I have so many other places that have our hearts and that we could call home thanks to this ministry. These are stories for another time, but I am so thankful for how God moved in our midst, providing us just the right places at just the right times in our lives. Bringing us people who became friends and even family. Bringing us memories and strength. It wasn’t always easy being a “PK”, but it sure was nice looking back on it.

If you’ve been blessed by my dad’s ministry or if you’ve been part of our journey through life across Western PA and Western Ohio, thank you. Dad and Mom are settling down just a short car ride away from their kids and their grandbabies and plan to take some time to just relax and enjoy. He will be honored at the Western PA Annual Conference Retirement Ceremony on Friday (June 9) at Grove City College.

Dad (or Pappy) and Mom (or Grammie), we are so thankful for your love and faith. Congratulations on your retirement and enjoy your new home – you deserve this blessing! xoxo

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Friendshipping

Friendshipping is hard when you’re a kid, but it’s downright tough as an adult. It’s 2017 and I feel like I am learning it all over again, right alongside the kids.

As an adult, it’s not as simple as finding someone who likes the same color as you or also pulls all the cheese and toppings of their pizza. It is a lot of give and take. Coordinating schedules and kids and diets and interests and opinions and political views and relationship statuses. Finding someone who understands that sometimes you might say something awkward, might not return a text for days, might not pickup the phone when you really do need someone to talk to.

It’s downright tough, this friendshipping as an adult thing.

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly seeing streams of happy faces of friends enjoying time together and it makes me wonder – how do they find the time and make it work? 

It’s because the ones that make it work, the ones that meet in the middle and hold your hand, these are the precious ones. They are the ones that get you even when you cannot do anything more than sob into the phone. They are the ones who know when you say you want ice cream get you ice cream. They are the ones who make this adulting friendshipping thing not so tough after all.

Kids – you’ve got built in best friends with each other. Don’t forget that, but find you some real, genuine, loving friends. They may be in your life for a season. You might lose them all too soon. Or who knows, you might still be friends with them 30 years later. Hold those hands tightly.

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Wildlife Wednesday: Northmoreland Park

Last weekend, Evan and I camped out at Northmoreland Park with his Royal Rangers outpost. One of our Saturday activities was going down to the lake to fish. As soon as we got close to the water we spotted a snake swimming by the bank. While everyone else got started fishing, I stalked the Northern Water Snake from the shore, determined to catch it to show the kids. After a few misses, i thought I’d lost him, so I went to check on Evan. All of a sudden the serpent popped it’s head out of the water right in front of us. I got down on the ground and started to army crawl towards it as it neared the bank. When it’s head ducked around a curve in the bank, I made my move, grabbing its tail and hoisting it to shore. As I worked to corral the reptile it began striking at me and a crowd began to gather.

For such a harmless creature, they sure like to act tough! They have several ways of deterring predators. First is to flatten its body out to make itself look big and intimidating. When it does this, the head takes on the familiar diamond shape of it’s venomous relatives. The second line of defense is to strike. I know, I know, but Greg, you said they are harmless. I suppose it should be said that they are not venomous, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bite. They have small teeth and a bite can be a bit painful, but are mere flesh-wounds. The snake’s third route to ward off predators is pretty crappy, literally; they poop on you, and it smells awesome! That is it, that’s all the more danger a water snake poses to humans.

After showing off the snake, I decided it had been stressed enough for one day so I placed it back in the water and off it swam. I enjoy observing wild animals up close, but you always need to be aware of the animal’s stress level. Many animals can basically be scared to death so it is usually wise to keep your encounters brief.

The next day, while the rest of our group left the park, Evan and I returned to the lake to explore some more. When we got there the lake was packed with people and we soon found out there was a fishing derby going on. I was a little bummed because I figured surely all these people would scare any wildlife away; Boy was I wrong.

We decided to walk all the way around the lake since the near side was very crowded. Once we got to the other side, Evan began to notice frogs by the bank. Several attempts at capture proved futile and only resulted in a muddy shoe. We walked through a beautiful wooded area and watched chipmunks scurry across the trail. When we got out of the woods we returned to the lake’s edge and were greeted by a family of geese. The young goslings were very rowdy and splashed about; it was rather entertaining.

As we scanned the shoreline I noticed a frog and as I bent down to make my move, something else caught my eye. There, lying in the mud was the cutest baby snapping turtle! I decided that the turtle was easier pickins and a rarer find. With a precise grab, and to the delight of Evan and a little girl fishing with her family nearby, I lifted the turtle out of the water by its rigid tail. As far as snapping turtles go, this little guy was very well behaved.

snapping turtle

Evan and a baby Snapping Turtle

Remember how I told you that I am not a Zoologist, well it showed in my knowledge of handling snapping turtles. While holding the turtle by it’s tail may be the safest option for us, it can do serious damage to the turtle’s tail and/or vertebral column. The safest way to handle a snapping turtle is to hold it by its shell just above the hind legs. Hopefully this little guy is ok and we didn’t do too much harm. :-/

After putting the turtle back in the water and watching him disappear into the mud, we moved on down the bank. As we peered into the shallows we came across a father and daughter fishing who inquired about our mission. They informed us that they had encountered a snake up on the trail nearby. After discussing our other findings, we headed over to the last known location of the snake. We walked through the tall grass alongside the trail and Evan spotted a cool snail.

As we walked, his snail was soon forgotten when a pretty little garter snake went slithering through the grass by our feet. I carefully picked up the snake and handed it to Evan. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen him smile so big!

Normally I try to catch and release the critters that we find, however garter snakes are beneficial to gardens and I have a slug problem in ours, so we brought it home with us.

As we continued our walk around the lake we came across a drake(male) mallard duck letting people come get extremely close. I thought this odd so I took a closer look, and down by the water’s edge was a mama mallard and her 8 little babies.

As we came back around to the front side of the lake we began encountering more fishermen. We also spotted lots of frogs sunning themselves along the shore. After missing a mammoth brown bullfrog I managed to snag a slightly smaller but equally beautiful green bullfrog.

We continued walking along the shore back towards the car, Evan insisting on showing off our catches to anyone who seemed interested. He played on the playground for a few minutes and we snapped a few pictures before letting the frog go.

As we left the park we both had huge grins plastered on our faces, knowing we had experienced some of nature’s treasures up close and personal. We talked about all the things we saw and looked forward to our next trip to Northmoreland Park.

If you live in Western PA and love critters and much as we do, I highly recommend checking out Northmoreland Park! Until next time, happy herping, ya’ll!

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Make a Statement with Your Hair and Divatress

This is a sponsored post about Divatress. All opinions are my own. 

Last night after the twins’ bath, Greg and I got to talking about their hair. Both have really pretty hair. Ava’s is a beautiful brown with super tight curls. Isla’s is almost white blond with some ringlets in the back. Our hope is they keep this pretty, natural hair as they grow, but we know the reality.

They’ll grow up like Mama and not really appreciate or love their hair. They’ll wish their hair was more like their sister’s or their best friend’s or Mom’s. Something. Right? I can’t blame them. I didn’t grow up loving my hair and I sure have made some changes throughout the years.

Well, thanks to beauty products, we women have that right – the right to make a statement with our hair that fits our current mood or style. It makes life fun to change up your look, especially when it comes to hair. Be it an enhancing shampoo/conditioner, temporary color, a hair cut, or a quick change with extensions or an outre hair weave from Divatress; there are so many ways to make your hair fit you. And it makes you feel pretty awesome, doesn’t it?

outre hair weave

(Source: divatress.com) This would be a great way for me to try the ombre look I’d love in the fall!

If you are looking for a new look, Divatress (a leading beauty company with thousands of wigs and hair care products) has options to help you do that before taking the scissors to your hair. They are a leader in black hair care and have many budget-friendly options to help you make a statement with your hair.

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What do you love about your hair? Hate? Wish it would do?

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Splashlings Medical Center and Wave 2 Blind Bags

[Review Disclaimer] Today we’re opening up the Splashlings Medical Center and Wave 2 Blind Bags. If you’ve not yet heard, Splashlings are a set of collectible toys that my kids (ages 8 and 6) are obsessed with. They are ocean-themed and include over 200 characters to collect and trade. Our favorites are the mermaids and the sparkly treasures.

splashlings wave 2

The Splashlings Medical Center lets your child pretend to be doctor – a like when their mama accidentally drops one of the precious ones. They can measure height and weight, conduct an exam, or even take an x-ray of their characters.

Each set we opened came with blind bags – actually ultra-cool shells – that keep some of the characters a mystery. Part of the fun is opening up the sets and seeing who is hiding inside. According to Arianna, duplicates aren’t a problem – they give kids a trade or let them enjoy as twins. But the best part is when you find characters who are not common (the Splashlings call these rare, ultra-rare color change, and super treasure).

Splashlings Medical Center

Check out our video to see what happened when Arianna opened up the Medical Center, a 6-pack (with two surprises), a 12-pack (with two surprises), and a blind bag star-fish shell.

PRO TIPS:

  • Keep some Splashlings Collector’s Shells on hand for those moments when you catch your kiddo being good.
  • Use ICE COLD water to change the color of your ultra-rare color change Splashlings. This didn’t go so well in our video until we did so!
  • Store your Splashlings in a cool container (Arianna uses a pencil box) so their siblings don’t lose them (Arianna’s tip).

As an 80’s kid, it’s really cool to know my kids are enjoying collectibles brought to them by the same creator that brought Pound Puppies® to my life – Mike Bowling.

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Splashlings are available at Walmart, Toys R Us, Justice, and Amazon. MSRP starts at $3.99 for the shells to $19.99 for the larger playsets.

In addition to the complete line of collectibles, fans can collect Upper Deck trading cards and tap into the Splashlings Official Checklist & Collector’s Guide companion app, offering a fun way to keep track of their growing toy and card collections.  The brand will see apparel, bedding and food/beverage products in the coming year. Splashlings assortments are available at Toys “R” Us, Amazon, Justice Stores, and Walmart beginning February 1, 2017.

Stay up to date with Splashlings via Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

splashlings

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