My Little Duke

Travel

Lay a really good table.

Faith, TravelSteph Duke1 Comment

A few months ago I felt a burden on my heart to create a space for women to encounter God. It was a no-brainer where this space would be ... Hill House in Sligo. 

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This season has been one where I've been trying to be obedient to what I feel the Lord is leading me into. It hasn't been easy. I've felt conflict in my spirit over finances, my marriage, motherhood and my ability to be any sort of useful vessel for God to use. But God has been faithful. If he places something on my heart and confirms it over and over again, it's a very simple choice for me to make. Do it. 

So when I got in touch with a few girls about a Spiritual Retreat in Sligo, I shouldn't have been surprised at their responses.

Yes. Yes. YES. A million times YES.

This time, this space, this place where exactly what was needed, at exactly the right time for these women, and also for me.

I needed to be brave, to step up and to lead, regardless of my own feelings of inadequacy. I had absolutely no need to doubt because God so graciously confirmed this weekend in the most incredible ways. But as usual, I let my own fears run riot in my mind, instead of focusing on what I was called to do and just getting on with it. 

And the other girls, well ... it took such courage and commitment to agree to come away for the weekend (they didn't even know each other) that I wanted to ensure that they felt right at home. God's promise was to "provide peace" (Haggai 2 v 9) at the retreat and he had prepared a place especially for each of us. All we had to do was show up.  Typical me wanted to be Martha again, to do all the stuff! Yet in all my striving and panicking to ensure the girls were well-fed, pampered, relaxed, encouraged and equipped, I was reminded that any work or ministry for God must begin from a place of total surrender. Once I let go of "self" and handed everything to God, I had no need to strive, no need to panic. This was all God's idea. I needed to accept that anything I brought to the table was not in my own strength, but from a servant heart, completely reliant on God. With open hands and a compassionate heart I prepared for the retreat.  

I spent some time alone with God a few weeks beforehand on a solo retreat to Sligo and got lots of the biblical prep done then. Our focus verse was Romans 15 v 13. 

Lettering print by Megan @growingracelettering

Lettering print by Megan @growingracelettering

In His goodness, God connected the pieces of the puzzle together so beautifully during the weekend. The places we visited where timely reminders of Paul's prayer to all believers and God's presence was tangible wherever we went. God was interested in the tiniest details of this retreat and I could feel His guiding hand even as I planned the itinerary. Amazing. 

Practically, I was able to provide the girls with their own lake-view room, bedlinen and Neal's Yard treats to enjoy.

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The girls also received some stationery bits n' bobs too!

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On arrival at Hill House on the Friday afternoon we all took time to get settled, unpacked and grab a cuppa. The living space has a stunning view of Lake Loughanelteen - such a wonderful way to begin to rest and unwind. 

The view of the lake from the living area balcony

The view of the lake from the living area balcony

After a cuppa, the sun made an appearance so I took the girls for a quick tour of the space. Hill House is part of the larger West of Ireland Centre that belongs to my in-laws. The area spans 55 acres and is tucked safely away beneath the mountains - a truly unique place to escape and retreat away from the hustle and noise of our busy lives. Knowing the surroundings meant that the girls could take time to explore and enjoy the tranquil surroundings whenever they wanted to.

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We enjoyed some time chatting and relaxing before it was time for me to get the dinner on - Mango Chicken was on the menu! I am still super grateful that Denby Pottery very kindly gifted some dinnerware from their beautiful Studio Blue range. What an absolute treat! Laying a really good table was made easy with such stunning pieces. 

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There is something really special about good conversation around a table isn't there? We chatted, ate and chatted some more, so much so that time was nearly away from us and we had lots more planned for the evening! 

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Following dinner we enjoyed a brilliant brush lettering workshop by Megan from @growingracelettering. Megan expertly shared her talents and tips and we soon got into the swing of it. I may or may not have gotten quite competitive by the end!! This was such a lovely way to bring Friday evening towards a close. Megan regularly hosts lettering workshops if you live in Northern Ireland and fancy trying your hand at it. I was surprisingly hooked by the end! Check Meg out on her instagram for her next workshop dates. 

See my  IG  story highlights for some live video footage!

See my IG story highlights for some live video footage!

Zoe's  IG  story :) 

Zoe's IG story :) 

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By the time we had finished our lettering prints it was almost time for bed! I'd originally planned for some pampering for Friday night but saved that for Saturday evening instead. I was definitely optimistic about timings during the weekend! I'll know that for next time! 

Before bed we had a short group session and I shared a little of my heart behind the retreat and what we would focus on over the coming days. Then we concluded day one with worship, no better way to end what had been a beautiful day. 

On Saturday morning the girls could wake up and grab breakfast any time before 11am. It was home from home - just work away in the kitchen and make whatever took your fancy. We had pre-organised to each bring some groceries, so there were lots of breakfast options!  I was up early getting some prep in for our morning group session. Although I knew what I wanted to say, God kept downloading fresh truth that I wanted to make sure I articulated correctly to the girls. 

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That Denby bowl though! 

That Denby bowl though! 

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What a lovely breakfast enjoying the peace and the view! By this stage we were all feeling rested and relaxed. It was now time to get ready for another group session before heading out for the afternoon. Saturday's session started with a really beautiful time of worship, followed by a short teaching time. We learned about living in overflow and the importance of being a conduit for Christ - an open-ended vessel that allows God to continually flow in as we continually pour out. More importantly, we discovered that when we operate our life in overflow we can change the landscape around us. Thank you Charlotte for your wisdom in this.  

Zoe spotted this while out shopping on Saturday afternoon. I just love how God gives us visual reminders that He's near and He's interested in our everyday. We studied the dandelion and propagation just a few hours before! 

Zoe spotted this while out shopping on Saturday afternoon. I just love how God gives us visual reminders that He's near and He's interested in our everyday. We studied the dandelion and propagation just a few hours before! 

Then it was time for lunch! I took the girls into Sligo town to Kate's Kitchen to eat and then for a few hours shopping. I let them loose while I enjoyed a coffee and some prep time in my favourite bakery. 

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Kate's Kitchen, Sligo

Kate's Kitchen, Sligo

The retail therapy was followed by a trip to Glencar Waterfall. The whole Glencar area is breathtakingly beautiful. The landscape and scenery are just incredible - well, well worth a visit, and the waterfall itself is a hugely popular tourist spot. I've been numerous times now, but this time felt really special. Once again, there was a real sense that God was near - the air was cool and crisp and we stopped and savoured the moment.  

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Awh. These girls!

Awh. These girls!

There was only time for a quick stop back at Hill House to freshen up before heading out to another one of my favourite spots - Rosses Point. We enjoyed dinner at The Driftwood, followed by a beach walk, before returning home for a cuppa and some pampering! It was Neal's Yard mini facials and head massages all round!

Rosses Point

Rosses Point

Sunday morning was another slow morning. We were so relaxed by this point that we decided just to do our group session in our pyjamas! God began to tie everything so beautifully together and we spent time being ministered to, taking communion and praying together -  just worshipping at the feet of Jesus. It will be one of those special times of encounter that I don't think I'll ever forget. 

Still in our pyjamas at noon, we set off for our mountain walk! Yes, in our pjs! Having this scenery in the back yard of Hill House still blows me away. Views of 'The Sleeping Giant' on one side and Lough Gill on the other. From the top of the mountain you can even see the sea stretched out in the distance!

Zoe taking in the view of 'The Sleeping Giant' - half in Co. Leitrim, half in Co. Sligo

Zoe taking in the view of 'The Sleeping Giant' - half in Co. Leitrim, half in Co. Sligo

Stunning views of Lough Gill

Stunning views of Lough Gill

Jesus, sweet Jesus

Jesus, sweet Jesus

Our final stop before our retreat came to an end was Strandhill. The girls were especially excited to visit Shells Seaside Bakery, Cafe & Little Shop after hearing so much about it! It certainly did not disappoint. We made a quick stop after lunch at Hill House and Strandhill was absolutely buzzing ... there was jazz playing on the bandstand and the sun peeped out from behind the clouds just long enough for us to drink our coffee and watch the surfers. This felt like the perfect way to end our weekend!

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I'm still a little overwhelmed by the whole experience if I'm honest. I felt called to lay a really good table for God. To provide a space and a place that welcomed others to come and enter in to God's presence. The table (literal and metaphorical) was and is, representative of God's presence, a place of ENCOUNTER. And as I've typed this post I've been reminded once again that I'm back where I began ... back at the place of surrender. I bring NOTHING to the table, except all that has been given to me by God. Any of my giftings, abilities or passions have been mercifully given to me and I am THANKFUL. And I have never been more aware of stewarding them well.   

There has already been interest in another retreat ... at this stage I have two possibilities:

1. Come Undone (spiritual retreat)

2. Escape to the West (non-spiritual retreat)

The finer details (cost/date) are yet to be finalised but if you are interested in either retreat, or have any questions, please email me  on steph@mylittleduke.com. 

On a final note I must thank my wonderful in-laws for allowing us to use Hill House and the girls for bravely joining me on this West of Ireland adventure! There is a whole lot more Sligo to see ... we barely scratched the surface ... 

Our Best Coffee Hangs ( North Coast Edit )

Coffee Hangs, Food, TravelSteph Duke1 Comment

Who doesn't love a day to the North Coast?! For us, it doesn't happen often enough! Our days headed to the sea usually mean a few stops on the way and a few detours to visit some of our absolute favourite coffee hangs. I've 5 beauties for you this time, so let's get started:

1. Middletown Coffee Co, Ballymena - @mtowncoffee 

An absolute gem in Ballymena. No journey up North for us would be complete without a wee pit-stop at M'Town. N. Ireland Aeropress Champion in 2015 and with the friendliest service around, they are hard to beat! Their sweet selection is always stunning and we always grab a box for the road.  

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2. Ursa Minor Bakehouse, Ballycastle - @ursaminorbakehouse

When we first discovered Ursa Minor, we were hooked. There was something about this visionary husband and wife team that resonated with our hearts - Dara and Ciara welcomed us in on our first visit and the homely atmosphere has kept us returning ever since. Their passion and drive sees them going from strength to strength. The breads, sweet bakes and vegetarian savoury dishes that these guys create are incredible. GO and visit, seriously! 

The old premises @ Ballycastle Garden Centre

The old premises @ Ballycastle Garden Centre

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The new digs 

The new digs 

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3. Lost + Found, Coleraine - @wearelostfound

One of my all time favourites is L + F. Nestled in the heart of Coleraine is this wonderful little coffee hang. Excellent food and super coffee make it a must visit. They even won best cafe in Ireland this year at the Irish Restaurant Awards! For us, no North Coast adventure would be complete without a stop here.

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Illustration by the super talented  @zoebarkerdraws

Illustration by the super talented @zoebarkerdraws

4. Bothy, White Park Bay - @bothywhiteparkbay

Next up ... a shelter and haven from those Atlantic gales ... is Bothy. I LOVE this place. In summer, you can sit outside (in the front porch or back garden) and enjoy the BBQ grill or pizza oven delights. In winter, you can cosy up and feel like you are home from home. 

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If you do swing by Bothy, be sure to check out Ballintoy Harbour ( think Game of Thrones ) and White Park Bay too. A special place for us ( Matt and I shared our first kiss there!! ) and beautiful scenery as you make your way down to the gorgeous beach. 

Ballintoy

Ballintoy

Ballintoy

Ballintoy

White Park Bay

White Park Bay

5. Babushka, Portrush - @babushkaportrush 

Our last coffee hang up North goes to Babushka, who sits proudly on the South Pier of Portrush Harbour. It really is a prime location, facing the West Strand Beach. There's such a cosy and chilled vibe here, with great coffee and a homemade, locally sourced menu of goodness! 

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Much like Belfast, if you're headed up North, there are some class places to coffee hang. These are, again, just some of our favourites at the moment.

Can't wait to check out:

Sea Shed Coffee + Surf, Benone - @seashedcoffee

Feeling the North Coast pull? I think I am! 

Wherever you are drinking your coffee this week, hoping it's just how you like it!

Steph xo

 

 

Amsterdam

Travel, MotherhoodSteph DukeComment

After much (and I mean MUCH) deliberation, planning, hmmm-ing and haaa-ing, my husband and I decided to take a greatly needed and well-earned break in Amsterdam … baby free.

The initial thought of going away without my Phoebe made me feel a wave of mixed emotions (fear, guilt, excitement, more guilt, panic, more guilt with a bit more panic for good measure!) To say I was slightly apprehensive about leaving my wee woman behind would be an understatement. However, it is as important to note that alongside my panic, I equally felt the weight of the importance of purposely making time for just my husband and I.

When a new baby comes along, life changes. The life you once knew instantaneously shifts and becomes centered around this new tiny human. They become your primary focus and the very reason that you breathe. You love them more than you can possibly even begin to describe. However, babies have a subtle way of zapping absolutely everything from you … your time, your emotions, what can sometimes feel like your whole and very being. This is amazing, totally amazing, yet it can be too easy to forget about the 2 very people who began the journey in the first place. The 2 very people that little baby relies on day and daily to provide unconditional love, support and care. So, Ma-ma and Da-da need to take a little time and look after themselves and to nurture their marriage. Re-discover a little love away from baby; marital love, not parental love. And this is exactly what we did.

We strolled arm-in-arm round the whimsical, canal-lined streets of Amsterdam over the half term break. We explored fascinating museums hand-in-hand like teenagers. We drank copious amounts of coffee and ate far more than was good for us! But we never once stopped thinking about our darling daughter and smiled like silly kids whenever we received a photo or video from home. We really tried (and occasionally failed) to not feel guilty and enjoy our precious time together – just the 2 of us. In this post I guess I want to reassure you that it is OK to spend time away from baby. It is OK to focus on your marriage for a bit. I am certainly not advocating that you abandon ship and disappear for long periods of time. You chose to become a responsible parent after all!

So, here is our little Amsterdam getaway; hopefully including some travel tips along the way for any of you thinking you’d fancy a stay here … it really is a beautiful city.

We caught a flight from Dublin on a rather pleasant early Sunday afternoon, (Valentine’s Day in fact) and arrived in Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam around 4pm local time.  Schiphol Airport is huge, with many popular and well known shops to browse in. Victoria’s Secret was one my husband was particularly interested in!!! Well, it was Valentine’s after all! Anyway, we didn’t take much time to browse as we quickly and easily booked our train ticket to Amsterdam Central Station using one of the many yellow ticket kiosks dotted around the Airport. It was a short and inexpensive train ride into the centre of Amsterdam where we exited through the doors of Central Station and onto the cold, wet and windy streets of Amsterdam.

We headed straight across the tram lines to the information centre to buy our I-AMsterdam cards. These cards gained us free entry into many of the local attractions and free travel in most areas of the city - very handy for jumping on and off the many trams and buses. Using trusty Google Maps my husband was able to direct us to the right bus stop and bus to get us to our accommodation. I am totally fascinated by technology today; standing in the middle of a different country we could use our iPhone to plan any journey we needed to take and track the nearest bus or tram stop to us, when the next bus/tram would be arriving AND if it was running late etc! Incredible! We departed from Central Station and headed towards our next destination - the Boathouse.

We explored AirBnb to find somewhere to stay in Amsterdam and came across the Boathouse. The cabin looked so welcoming and cosy that we just couldn’t resist. Staying on a local’s boat was a great way to experience Amsterdam and added such a feeling of authenticity and excitement to our visit. It was small yes, but what else do you expect when you are sleeping in the Captain’s Cabin? It was well equipped for all our needs with tea, coffee, fridge, toilet, super soft bed and warm shower each morning. The panoramic views of the surrounding harbour were beautiful and Eltjo was really helpful, welcoming and friendly. Check it out here and mention us if you are thinking of booking for a special discount! Eltjo couldn't believe just how little luggage we had. We travelled light (really light) on this trip. I have never ventured so far with so little! It is surprising just how much STUFF a baby needs (even just to go out to the shops!) So it felt great to travel with just the bare minimum, for once!

The weather on Valentine’s Day was truly awful! The cold wind was fierce as we made our way along the exposed pier to get to the Boathouse. By the time we arrived we were soaked and more than ready for a hot cuppa. I remember thinking just how difficult the journey would have been with a little one in tow, particularly in the bad weather and was thankful we had made the decision to travel solo this time. The wet coats and boots were kicked off and we enjoyed a rest and a coffee before thinking about braving the elements again. Thankfully, the weather eased off a little to allow us to walk to the tram station where we boarded a tram headed for our Valentine’s evening meal.

I researched a number of different places to eat in Amsterdam and came across Rotisserie Amsterdam - a Brooklynese Bar famous for its chicken. It was a quirky joint that was buzzing with locals. All our waiters spoke English and provided English menus. My G&T was the size of a fish-bowl and the chicken was incredibly delicious. Everything was perfect. We stuffed ourselves silly with succulent chicken and sweet, sweet apple sauce (a Dutch special) and left happy and oblivious to the weather that had got considerably worse since we arrived. Our journey back to the Boathouse was bitterly cold, windy and wet!

Monday was planned to be a busy day, full of sightseeing, eating and exploring some of what Amsterdam has to offer. The weather was cold but sunny and I was so excited to discover! We began the day by taking a bus from Central Station 40 minutes out of Amsterdam to Zaanse Schans - a vibrant and stunning living and working community that dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s packed with wooden windmills, barns, houses and museums and built in the typically Dutch wooden architectural style. It is a stunningly beautiful place to visit. I loved simply walking around the unusual houses and working windmills. The place is so relaxing and it was completely fascinating to get to see inside these traditional windmills. The sights, sounds and smells were amazing. We also visited the brilliant clog workshop and scoffed sweet pancakes and hot chocolates. I was in my element.

We travelled back into Amsterdam just after lunchtime where we took a pitstop in a trendy Starbucks just beside Central Station. Their menu choice was much more extensive than we have here in our Northern Irish Starbucks coffee shops and I very much enjoyed a Burnt Caramel Latte and doughnut. Our next plan of action was decided and we headed off to find the famous floating flower market, Bloemenmarkt. On route we passed through the famous Red Light District and several ‘Coffee Shops.’ We also stopped to admire the incredible Pathe Tuschinski Cinema. We stolled through the Bloemenmarkt and I resisted the temptation to fill my handbag with bulbs to bring home! I can just imagine how beautiful the Bloemenmarkt will be in a few months time, unfortunately we were just too early to see it in all its glory.

Our next stop was to see Anne Frank’s house and grab some famous ‘Chips in a Cone’ on the way. We pre-planned to stop at Vlaamse Frites and wow - those chips were good! I chose to go for the good old traditional chip sauce and hubby went for (more) apple sauce with his. Delicious. We did indeed then visit Anne Frank’s house but the queue was just too long to wait to go inside. We had tried to pre-book tickets online but they only have a small number of tickets available for online purchase so you have got to get them early! Also, because our trip was so short, we were on a pretty strict time schedule and hubby wanted to see the Eye Film Museum before closing time so we hot-footed it back to Central Station and caught the ferry across to the IJPromenade. The Eye Institute building is beautiful and is full of interesting and interactive exhibits. We were wowed and inspired by Close-Up – A New Generation of Film and Video Artists in the Netherlands. I also had lots of fun making my very own movie - watch it here! We had dinner that evening in THT beside the Eye Museum. It is a tapas-style restaurant serving yummy tapas dishes from around the world and I would definitely recommend it, especially the pork and popcorn!

Tuesday morning would be our last few hours in Amsterdam. We were due to head back to the Airport at 11.45 so we wanted to just enjoy a nice breakfast somewhere and explore another museum. We headed to the famous Museum Quarter and took in the wonderful paintings in the Van Gogh Museum before sitting in the sunshine sipping lattes and eating chocolate waffles, watching the ice-skaters in front of the Rijksmuseum and IAMsterdam letters. It was glorious.

Overall, Amsterdam was amazing. It is a fascinatingly beautiful city with lots to explore and although we probably didn’t do most of the touristy, traditional ‘Amsterdam’ stuff, we had a flipping great time … and … it was ‘our’ time. Time to re-charge the batteries, re-focus on ‘just us’ and re-energise for the season ahead. Best of all though, we got to come home. Home to our beautiful baby. She didn’t seem to notice we’d been gone and had a fabulous time with her Nana and Papa (THANK YOU!!) She seemed more concerned with the awesome cuddly Miffy we brought her home!