PITTSBORO — Creativity bursts at the seams inside Belle Boggs’ Pittsboro home. Paint brushes line the cabinets, books of all kinds cover the shelves and crafts of days past are scattered about like treasures.
Boggs passed her artistic energy onto her two daughters, Bea Allen, 9, and Harriet Allen, 4.
When all that imagination and color had to be cooped up at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Boggs knew she and her daughters needed an outlet.
Belle and Bea started writing weekly blog posts about their pandemic adventures — what crafts they were making, what they found on their walks to the Haw River, their favorite books and more.
Thus, the Frog Trouble Times was born . The namesake for the blog is a country music album by Sandra Boynton called “Frog Trouble.”
“It really began as a way to record some of the things that were happening and what we were doing,” Boggs said. “It’s become a good way of keeping up with — and building on — our ideas.”
When Boggs isn’t writing “ribbet”-ing pieces in Frog Trouble Times, she’s a creative writing professor at N.C. State. She’s also the author of several fiction and nonfiction books including “The Art of Waiting,” “Mattaponi Queen” and “The Gulf.”
Bea, meanwhile, can be found taking care of her dozens of houseplants (her favorite is called “mother of thousands”), reading Greek mythology or cartwheeling across the makeshift balance beam on her back porch. Bea is also the soon-to-be-author of “Plant Pets,” a kid-to-kid guide about caring for various types of houseplants, which will be published in 2024.
And Harriet, who serves as more of an occasional contributor to the team, loves to paint, eat copious amounts of orange slices and wear her socks in a very particular fashion.
But just because two-thirds of the writers’ room is in elementary school, the bloggers don’t shy away from the big topics of the day. Recently, they’ve written stories on the importance of learning Black history, making a local impact on climate change and adjusting your mindset to stop making excuses.
Their wide-ranging prose serves as a time capsule, both of their time together and the state of the world.
Bea says their ideas for their weekly topics come from whatever piques their interest at the time.
“We sometimes pick certain unusual animals that most people don’t know about, then write about it,” she said. “Or if we get ideas for really good crafts, we put that in the blog.”
As a sneak preview of an upcoming Frog Trouble Times story, Bea and her mom shared about a recent experience going to the landfill. On a recent trip, they noticed most of the recycling isn’t properly sorted. Being the pondering journalists they are, they thought about how bad that is for their nearby streams and how to spread the word.
The post will share better ways to recycle for their community and alternative ways to dispose of waste like composting, which Boggs and Bea are both passionate about.
Looking through the archives of the blog, which began April 2021, the most common segment you’ll find is the abundant variety of crafts Bea does. She’s built cardboard dollhouses with functioning elevators, made her own vases that look like their cat, Julius, and even finger-woven an adjustable jump rope.
When asked where she learned her talents, Bea says “I taught myself,” with a grin of pride. She says the instructions she reads in books or YouTube videos aren’t helpful enough — she prefers honing her skills through good ol’ fashion trial and error.
It helps that her mother used to be a K-12 teacher who was used to having crafts around. In fact, it was one of those crafts that first inspired her to make Frog Trouble Times. As a 5th grade teacher, Boggs had her students make a newspaper.
“Making it was often kind of cacophonous,” Boggs said. “But it made me feel better that at the end of the day we had this thing that reminded me of all the things we did.”
Parents, grandparents and students all loved having something handmade to show off their work in the class, Boggs said. So when her children got old enough to write and craft, Boggs began making newspapers with them, too.
Those newspapers, the pre-digital versions of Frog Trouble Times, were distributed to grandparents, friends and even some local bestselling authors like Jill McCorkle (who happens to be close friends with Boggs). With some rave reviews from their early audience, the Frog Troublers looked to expand their reach in the digital space and soon started posting their weekly adventures on Substack, a subscription-based electronic newsletter service.
The other hot topic on Frog Trouble Times, and some of the most popular posts, are the duo’s book recommendations.
When she counted last March, Bea had 103 books on the shelves in her room. Not a single one is unread. That doesn’t even count for all the books she’s read from the local library or her grandparents’ basement bookshelf.
“I don’t mind at all — sharing a love of reading with my children is a dream come true,” Boggs wrote in a blog post. “One of my biggest parenting goals, as they get older, is to make sure that they don’t lose it.”
That love isn’t limited by genre either. They both read everything from old comics and graphic novels to poetry and nonfiction.
“I like pretty much everything,” Bea said. “I really like mythology, but the problem with mythology is that I’ve read all of it.”
Like any good writer, Bea has a constant hankering for a juicy story — a trait she shares with her mom. It’s that intense love of stories, and the ways they can connect with people that shines through in every post on Frog Trouble Times.
To subscribe to the blog, and read posts of past and present, visit frogtroubletimes.substack.com.
Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @b_rappaport
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