Warm Hearts in Alaska By Jennifer Sundquist

Warm Hearts in Alaska by Jennifer Sundquist

My name is Jennifer Sundquist and I am the lead pre-school teacher at Palmer LifeWays in Palmer, Alaska.  Our winters can be quite chilly up here and our valley is known for its blustery days.  We make an effort to infuse warmth into many parts of our day. Inside, our candle plays a big part in our meal times and also at story time.  We dim the lights, light the candle singing, “Fairy of the story, share with us your story.”   I feel this brings a sense of warmth, a physical representation that the children can see and bring into their hearts.  The children love the candle, and when it is lit they fall silent and listen intently to the story.  At the end of the story we sing, “Fairy of the story, thank you for your story,” and I snuff out the candle.  

Another physical representation of warmth for us is the food and clothing for our children at Palmer LifeWays. In the winter I make a special effort on really cold days to bake a healthy snack in the afternoons, usually a whole wheat fruit muffin of some kind, and I make the children chamomile or mint tea flavored with local honey. We have some parents who are bee keepers in the summer months so we stock up on honey for the winter.  Here is a recipe for an applesauce cake the children really like with chamomile tea after a wintery afternoon outside. 

Applesauce Cake


1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp or slightly melted
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups applesauce
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a big bowl with a wooden spoon, stir butter until creamy. Add the brown sugar and continue mixing. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and vanilla, and then mix until well blended.
In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add to the creamed mixture alternately with the applesauce. Fold in the raisins and walnuts. Pour batter into a greased and floured loaf or tube pan and bake until firm to the touch, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan, and then turn it out.  The smell is wonderful!!

Making sure the children are properly dressed for outside weather in Alaska is a must–frost nip and frost bite are very real problems for us.  This year I made all the children fleece face warmers when we had a cold patch and temperatures were below zero.  I love to see the children playing outside all bundled up, and many of them have the orange and red face warmers on that I made.  We have bins dedicated to extra hats and mittens; we also have an extensive collection of winter gear that parents have donated from children who have moved on to kindergarten and the grades.  We all work together to make sure the children are dressed properly for our chilly Alaska weather.