The Real Housewives of Benton County Presents: Afton Muir-Fostering Creativity in Young Children

Have any of you had the experience where you just quietly observe someone that you don’t know, and you can just tell that you would like them? I remember seeing Afton at the park or at the library before I knew her well, and she just radiated happiness and light. I could just tell that she was the kind of person I would want to be around. Very quickly after getting to know her more, I was impressed with the many creative things that she does with her children. I remember her daughter Ella Mae casually telling me about how the night before they had made “rainbow soup” trying to incorporate all of the colors of the rainbow into their soup. I feel like I can be a creative mom sometimes,  but I honestly feel like with how life gets with meeting the demands of little ones, I have not quite figured out how to make it a priority. I often find myself saying “Not right now,” when my kids present me with a project they want to do or a game they want to play. Afton is a specialist at making the ordinary a pleasure, and after my interview with her, I am feeling hopeful that I can make small changes to help foster creativity in myself and in my children. Read on and be inspired my friends :).
K-Afton my dear, I could tell that you are a creative person just by how creatively you dress, and I mean that as a compliment :). You could literally wear a mumu with a belt tied around it and orthopedic grandma shoes and still pull if off somehow :).  Since I haven’t known you for that long, would you please tell me about what your creative outlets were before having kids?
A- I was always an artsy kid who wanted to be a sculptor, singer, painter etc…. It was constantly changing.  I painted and  danced and always did musical theater all growing up. In college, I did a lot of yoga, sculpture, painting and print making. I have always been kind of broke, so I would always buy cheap vintage clothes and alter them to fit me.
When I had Ella Mae, I took a year break from school, and I came back with even more of a focus on art.  When Ella Mae was in preschool, I started my own apparel business out of my home, and I would sell my clothes on Etsy. It was great, because I was able to make money that we needed and express myself creatively at the same time. I was also still able to spend most of my time with Ella Mae.
K-What type of apparel did you make/sell?
A-Sort of eccentric frilly clothes. I would imagine an event in my mind that someone with a cool life would go to. I would use my imagination, even sometimes imagining the city and details of what the event would be like, and then I would try to create a piece of clothing that would be fitting.
K-You seem to be so good at living in the moment and  just getting down and playing with your kids, and I really admire that about you. Are most of the creative things you do with your kids spontaneous or do you spend a lot of time planning?
A-Most everything we do is spontaneous, but I do like to sit down with early childhood almanac books to help me think of fresh ideas that may go along with a certain holiday or season.
K-I think that most parents with small children have markers, crayons, scissors, paper, paint, and basic art supplies. What other supplies do you find that you use a lot?
A-I have so many art supplies. I probably have way too many, in fact. I admit that I probably hold on to some supplies too long, because I never know when I will need that scrap of fabric or wood for a project with Ella Mae. You can create beautiful things out of almost anything that you have laying around your house.
K-Have there been any inspirations in your life that have helped you evolve into the wonderful creative person that you are today?
A-One of the biggest influences in me feeling inspired is meditation. It let’s me practice being present with my kids and to focus on being happy with my life right now as it is.  My life may not always be perfect or what I would have imagined it to be, but meditation and yoga help me enjoy and try to embrace where I am at in the moment.
Also, my sister-in-law Maude is a great inspiration to me of how to live in the moment and be creative. She is so good at dropping whatever she is doing to play and enjoy people around her and being a mom. I really admire that about her.
K-When you do your home school time with Ella Mae, what are examples of things that you might do together?
A-Throughout most of the day, we focus primarily on free play and we love to be outside. There is also access to materials for Ella Mae to create projects and crafts throughout the day. When Moses is napping, we try to spend that time together focusing on reading and writing, or we will bake or play logic games together. We do the more “academic” stuff during that time, but the rest of the time it’s usually just playing together.
K-For those of us who feel like we sometimes lack creativity, what are some examples of simple things we can do with our kids to make a rainy afternoon enchanting?
A-I love costumes and dressing up. For people who struggle knowing how to facilitate creativity and imaginative play, I think that it is great to approach play from a theme perspective. Recently we have been into playing pirates. It started with Ella Mae’s interest in a library book we checked out about pirates. We started to talk like pirates, sing sea shanties and our house would turn into a pirate ship for awhile, with the galley and a plank. We’ve also done a lot of imaginative play  pretending that we are from the time of “Little House in The Big Woods.” For a long time, Ella Mae loved helping me around the house pretending that she was Cinderella. She loved when I would pretend to be the mean step mother.
When we are really into a theme, we include it in our cooking and cleaning, and it just makes the ordinary so much more fun. I totally know that I am a drama geek, and it is so fun to see that Ella Mae has a lot of that in her too. I will just find her lost in her fantasy land throughout the day.
K-There are many ways to promote creativity, but there are also I imagine many things that distract mothers/children from living in the moment and fostering these moments. What are some things that you believe stifle creativity?
A-The biggest thing that I believe stifles creativity and play is over scheduling. My best ideas usually come when I’m not looking for them and planning them out. Part of fostering creativity means that we leave enough time that when a creative idea comes to one of us, we are able to take the time to go with it. When we are just moving from one scheduled activity to another or too focused on “getting things done”, we aren’t able to take time to be inspired and to live in the moment with our kids. We have to value this and then make time and space for it to happen. I have been trying harder lately to not over schedule our days. I truly feel blessed that I am able to spend this time with my kids. I was once a full time college student, with a part time job AND a toddler. Being a stay at home mama is a huge luxury, and I am grateful every day for it.
K-As you prioritize fostering creativity, I am wondering what role television plays at your house.
A-My mom got rid of our tv when I was 13, and I’ve never had one since. There are just too many wonderful things to do to waste a lot of my time watching television. Our kids do watch an occasional movie from the library on the computer. Every once in awhile I need to “plug them In” for 30 minutes so I can get stuff done around the house, but I try not to do it too often. I find that Ella Mae’s behavior will often change for the worse when she is plugged in too long. I feel lucky that this is something that Sean (her husband) and I agree on.
K-Afton, your smile is infectious and you just seem to be an overall  warm fuzzy, feel good happy person. It is hard not to be happy around you. What are some things in your life that bring you happiness and peace?
A-My family. They bring me so much happiness and peace. I never thought that I was going to be a mom so young (I wasn’t even sure  if I would be a mom at all), and I have found this to be my greatest peace. Motherhood is the dream job I never knew I wanted. I feel creative, purposeful and fulfilled through caring for my children. I find balance and clarity when I am riding my bike and exploring outside. I also love working in my garden. I know that eventually I will have more time to make “grown up” art, but for now I am grateful that I can creatively express myself with my children. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by many wonderful mama friends who share similar values are such a good examples to me. It makes being a mom so fun.
Angela - April 27, 2011 - 8:42 am

Thank you for such a wonderful article on one of my favorite people! Afton has changed my life so completely by sharing her life of creativity, craftiness, and fashion-sense. I love you, Afton!

Bonnie - April 27, 2011 - 1:12 pm

Kara you captured Afton so well, ever since I met Afton I have been inspired by her and her fun lifestyle. I agree with Afton about having an open schedule it’s something I need to work on. Love you both!!

Christina - April 27, 2011 - 2:43 pm

I feel like I want to move to Benton County – you know such cool people Kara!

kara - April 27, 2011 - 3:00 pm

You totally should move to Benton County :). You would fit right in :). I really am grateful to live in a place where there are so many good role models and nice people. I’m sure there are plenty of people not like that as well, but I seem to have surrounded myself with a lot!

candice ashment - April 27, 2011 - 9:25 pm

Kara, loved reading this! You are such a great writer! I loved reading about someone artsy also! Thanks!

You should enter your posts on!

kara - April 27, 2011 - 10:33 pm

Thanks Candice!!
I don’t know what is, but I am going to check it out!
Bye the way…. your art is amazing… how do you find time to do it???

Natalie Kawell - April 28, 2011 - 3:15 pm

Kara — such great questions and lovely things you said about Afton, and all so true. You definitely have a gift for writing and sharing the joy of people, as Afton has the gift of creativity and fun. I really enjoyed reading this, especially all the positive things that Afton said about being a mom and how beautiful family is. Loved it!

justine blide - April 30, 2011 - 3:05 pm

I love you afton!! keep up the good work!