Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Inside the Family Support Program Operation: Military Kids

Home Front: Diaries of a Vermont military family

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2013 at 4:01 PM

Stephanie Atwood, left, with Gov. Peter Shumlin
  • Stephanie Atwood, left, with Gov. Peter Shumlin

Stephanie Atwood, left, with Gov. Peter Shumlin
  • Stephanie Atwood, left, with Gov. Peter Shumlin
Throughout my husband’s deployment, our family has relied on the amazing support we receive from Operation: Military Kids (OMK), a support program funded by the Department of Defense and administered by the USDA. The program hosts free events all over the state for military kids to connect with others who understand exactly what they are going through. I’ve witnessed firsthand what a great service it provides — I so appreciate what it does for our boys.

To learn more about the program, I recently interviewed Stephanie Atwood, the coordinator of Vermont’s OMK (pictured, with Gov. Shumlin). She explains what OMK does — and why she’s so passionate about her work.

Why did you decide to work with military families?

My mom grew up as a “military child,” moving from state to state, often country to country. She never stayed in the same school for very long, which meant she constantly had to “start over” with friendships. I don't think I had ever really considered the impact those transitions had on her until I learned about OMK.

I can now see how disruptive that movement can be for a child, and my mom has confirmed that it wasn’t easy. She was the oldest of eight, which meant she had a pretty big role to play in the family, especially when her dad was away. I think the combination of constantly moving from place to place and needing to help out so much around the house caused my mom to grow up pretty quickly. I’m not sure she had as much of a “childhood” as she would have liked.

I realized that I was the type of person [OMK] aimed to reach — the type of person who recognizes the importance of supporting military kids once they understand more about deployment and military life; the type of person who wants to take action because of that new knowledge. That's when I decided to officially sign on as [an AmeriCorps] VISTA with OMK — and I've stayed ever since!

What’s the history of OMK in Vermont?

As the global war on terror ramped up close to 10 years ago, the United States Department of Agriculture and Department of Defense began to look for collaborations to support military families affected by deployment. Operation: Military Kids began in 2004 in a handful of states with high populations of deployed military personnel. Vermont was not eligible to apply until 2008, when we received our first round of funds.

OMK programs in Vermont are open to military-connected children and youth ages 6 and up. That means children and youth who have a parent or loved one — aunt, uncle, brother, sister, grandparent, etc. — connected to the military, whether they’re currently deployed or not.

The mission in 2008 still stands today: to educate community members on the cycle of deployment and related topics, so that communities can better support their military families. [It also aims to] provide positive youth-development opportunities for our military children, so that they gain the skills and relationships necessary to handle deployments and other challenges that come their way.

[The emphasis is on] individual and family resiliency, as well as mobilizing communities to support their local military families.

Why is community support so important?

In a state like Vermont, where a high percentage of our military is National Guard, our families are spread out around the state, often disconnected from other military families and the resources you’d normally find on a military base. I think it makes a lot of sense to connect military families to the resources that already exist in their own communities, such as youth-serving organizations or school guidance counselors. It’s part of OMK’s job to help make those connections.

[We work] to educate Vermonters about deployment, reintegration — the period of time after a deployment — and, really, the overall impact “military life” can have on a child. With this greater understanding, we believe community members will be better prepared and more likely to show their support for our military children and youth.

What is your favorite part of your job?

[It] would have to be working with the kids. A lot of my time is spent working in my office, so when I'm finally able to get out there and run a program or visit with families, it's extra special. Over the years, I've been able to get to know the kids we serve (and their parents, too), and it makes me so happy to see them return to our programs again and again.

What message do you hope to spread through OMK?

Support is still needed for our military families. Just because the "big" Army National Guard deployment of a few years ago is over doesn't mean families no longer need our support. Deployments continue — obviously! — and we also know that something as seemingly small as a drill weekend can have a huge impact on a child.

Tasha Lehman
  • Tasha Lehman

Tasha Lehman is a mother of three boys living in Vermont. Her husband, Matt, is a first lieutenant in the Vermont Air National Guard who recently headed overseas for his first deployment. The “Home Front: Diaries of a Vermont military family” series chronicles their journey. Read more about their story in February’s “Use Your Words” essay.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Home Cookin': Maple-Syrup Sticky Buns

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2013 at 10:00 AM

  • photo by Tasha Lehman

After this record-breaking maple season, my family has been enjoying as much of that golden deliciousness as possible. I recently spiced up a recipe for sticky buns by adding Vermont maple syrup. My mouth was watering before I could even gather the ingredients. You can cheat and use canned biscuits — which I have done before! — but of course it’s even better homemade.

Maple-Syrup Sticky Buns

2 ½ cups flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
¾ cup milk
1 large egg

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is coarse.

In a small bowl, combine the milk and egg, and lightly whisk together. Stir the liquids into the flour mixture until just combined.

Knead the mixture together until smooth. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut it into individual biscuits, using a biscuit cutter or a round cup.

Sticky topping:
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup pure maple syrup

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Grease a Bundt pan with nonstick spray.

Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

In another small bowl, combine the melted butter and syrup. Pour half of the syrup mixture in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle half of the brown sugar mixture on top. Line the biscuits around the bottom of the pan, overlapping as needed. Top with the remaining syrup and then the remaining sugar. 

Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes, or until the middle of the biscuits are no longer gooey. Cool in the pan for just a minute or two, then invert onto a plate. Enjoy!

Tasha Lehman
  • Tasha Lehman

Tasha Lehman is a mother of three boys living in Vermont. Read her "Home Front: Diaries of a Vermont Military Family" series here. Visit her personal blog,, here.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Out and About: Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens

Traveling with toddlers in tow

Posted By on Thu, May 2, 2013 at 9:34 AM

  • photo by Brooke Bousquet
Kids hate 91.

These words echo in my head every time we make the turn from I-89 onto 1-91 in White River Junction. My good friend — a fellow parent — told me this years ago and I have found it to be mostly true. Even my seasoned travelers, my roadie boys ages 1 and 4, get weary somewhere between WRJ and the Connecticut border. It’s a length of road we drive often, traveling from the Burlington area to southern Connecticut to visit my in-laws.

Because of this, my husband and I are always looking for a well-timed pit stop — somewhere we can burn through that high-octane “boy energy,” eat and, of course, pee. So one sunny April morning, we tried our luck at the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in South Deerfield, Mass.

I had to convince my husband, as he thought we would be looking at dead, pinned butterflies encased in some stuffy museum where the boys would wreak havoc. No, sir. At Magic Wings, the butterflies are alive and flying around as you walk through what feels like a rainforest.

We shed our sweatshirts, entered a warm building and purchased our tickets. Prices were a bit steep at $14 for the adults and $10 for our 4-year-old. (Our 1-year-old was free.) At those rates, I was feeling the pressure for this place to deliver.

But I was at ease once I heard the excitement pouring out of my eldest’s mouth, at an ear-piercing decibel: "BUTTERFLIES! Come here, Momma, look, no, look here! They're so beautiful, OK, now look HERE. LOOOOOK, MOMMA, HERE!"

You first enter a room full of aquariums with frogs and educational exhibits. My budding scientist was so fully engaged in these that we had to convince him there was, in fact, more to see. Pushing on, you walk through a double set of doors with a wind machine blowing, which prevents the butterflies in the conservatory from escaping. This was my toddler's absolute favorite thing in the whole place. There were mirrors inside the wind tunnel, so he took the opportunity to perform a little song-and-dance number.

Entering the conservatory is magical. There’s harp music, a waterfall and slight breeze from turbines above. It would almost have been relaxing if not for the aggressive tugging to press on, to see more — and more, and more! — butterflies. They were everywhere. In the air, on the crowds of people, on the tropical garden flowers, bouncing from leaf to giant leaf in the gymnasium-sized greenhouse.

After about an hour and a half, we were ready to depart the crowds and jump back into the car for the next leg of our trip — and lunchtime. We skipped the conservatory’s cafeteria pizza in favor of our homemade Nutella-and-peanut-butter sammies en route.

Know before you go:

Some additional highlights of the visit were the case of chrysalises with butterflies in various stages of hatching, the koi pond and the turtles.

• No strollers are allowed.
• Cafeteria-style eating is available.
• There is a gift shop. (We didn't buy anything.)
• There are changing tables in the restroom.

For more information, visit

Brooke Bousquet
  • Brooke Bousquet

Brooke Bousquet is the lead designer of Kids VT. She lives in Winooski with her husband and two sons.

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