My Little Duke


Learning from yesterday.

Motherhood, FaithSteph Duke1 Comment

Yesterday, Phoebe and I headed off for a late Sunday afternoon stroll. The sun was shining, the air was cold and crisp, the sky was blue and the mood was good! We packed the wellies, the woolies and the scooter, then we headed off to Peatlands Park.

The park was busier than I’d expected, but nonetheless, off we strolled together, a hand on each handle of the scooter. (Phoebe still hasn’t quite mastered the “scooting” technique yet!) We mostly just walk alongside it! Hanging from one handle of the scooter was a bag of bread for the ducks - poor dears - most of the lake was frozen solid! We did manage to find a little bit of water and threw some bread in. Phoebe mustn’t have had enough lunch, as most of the bread ended up in her own stomach! 


Once the bread was devoured (by Phoebe) she noticed the little play area behind where we had been feeding the ducks. Well - as parents of three year olds can understand - nothing would do, only to go straight in and play pretend trains for the foreseeable future. It was baltic, and I counted down the minutes until Phoebe could be tempted onto the next “exciting thing.” A walk just wasn’t going to do the trick so I “now regrettably” used the word “playground” to describe our next destination.


Well, I can take full responsibility for what happened next, as, understandably, a coloured hop-skotch on the ground just doesn’t cut it as a “playground” to a 3 year old!

The face on her!

I tried, I really did, to encourage her to give it a go. You know, just while my fingers were freezing off! But, no. Absolutely not. Phoebe was having none of it. She wouldn’t put a single foot near it. She was totally disgusted.

I could see that some people were headed our direction, so I attempted to find another solution. I offered up some other suggestions but I knew that she was “having a moment!” I began to make my way toward her - wrong move. She screamed, then started running in the opposite direction. I was acutely aware of the oncoming traffic: a poor, unsuspecting family and their dog! I couldn’t let Phoebe run too far off, especially with so many dogs around, so I bolted after her, scooter in tow! I grabbed her and hunkered down beside her. She was hollering “no, stop Mummy!!!” at the top of her voice like I was inflicting some sort of torture on her!


In those moments, when you are so conscious of onlookers and critical stares, you make split second choices - mine tend to be on the dramatic side - no wonder a certain someone can be a bit of a drama queen! She didn’t want any of my suggestions and continued to shout her head off. I warned her that we would go straight back to the car if she didn’t stop being silly - so inevitably ... off we went ... back to the car. Needless to say, this didn’t go down well! There I was, trailing both a scooter and a screaming 3 year old over the grass, towards the car. I’m sure the whole of Peatlands could hear “NOOOO Mummy!” and her big, wet sobs. A couple of times I tried to carry her but she was too slippery against my coat and too heavy to carry one handed, remember ... I had the scooter trailing along from the other hand!

The shouting persisted the whole way across the car park and into the car. I could see she was completely exhausted though. By late afternoon these days, it’s not really worth fighting with Phoebe for she’s just too tired. Now that we’re back in routine of school, there’s no napping during the day so we can get an early bedtime! And, when Phoebe’s getting tired, you daren’t look at her the wrong way!

Once strapped in, I gave her her bunny and teddy and just to add insult to injury, I demanded an apology before she got her dummy. Now, even still, Phoebe’s all time favourite comforts are these 3 things: bunny, teddy and dummy. These 3 items are inseparable and rarely come without the other. With no “sorry” offered and in my own stubbornness, I set the dummy in the passenger seat and we began the 20 minute drive home. I suspected a roaring match the whole way, but she sat, without a peep, for the entire journey - mulling it all over and sussing me out, no doubt! I swear, she was giving me the evil eye in the mirror for most of the drive!


On arrival home, I was even more determined to get my apology, and so the saga continued. Matt thought the whole thing was hilarious, but did try to explain to Phoebe the importance of saying “sorry” and “being nice to Mummy” and “not shouting.” Well, Phoebe is most certainly my daughter ... stubborn as a mule! She was adamant that “sorry” was not crossing her lips. Instead, she would try and sneak the dummy from my pocket!

Eventually ... Matt somehow persuaded Phoebe to say sorry. Probably after around 15 minutes of an awful lot of huffing and puffing - from both Phoebe and I! But you know what, the moment she said sorry and wrapped those wee arms round my neck, I could have bawled my eyes out. I just hate it when we aren’t right with each other. It happens so rarely these days. So when we aren’t good ... I don’t like it. Not one bit.


As Matt often says ... “she’s only 3!” And, now that I’m not teaching in a classroom, I need to try and remember to step back from that role a little. Yes, I’m teaching Phoebe, but not in the same way. My role to her is different. It’s as Mother. It’s a nurturing role. More often than not, I’m stopping and reflecting on all that it means to be a Mother. The mighty weight of responsibility that comes rushing on you, the moment you hear the first little cry. But also the mighty honour and privilege it is to tend to and care for a little life. To watch it begin to grow and flourish! In 2018 my prayer is that in my role as Mother - especially in this new season of career-change - I gain deeper roots and firmer foundations in and through Christ. There is no stronger love. No better example. No greater sacrifice. May God grant me the patience and wisdom needed in these days and continue to mould and shape me into the kind of Mother Phoebe needs me to be.

Blessings for a wonderful week my lovelies,

Steph xox


Motherhood, FaithSteph Duke2 Comments

If I were to sum up 2017, I would have to use the word 'brave' - especially in this latter part of the year. 2017 saw me stepping right out of my comfort zone and into the wilderness. I'm braving a new land, new territory and new freedom ... and I cannot flipping wait!


The beginning of the year started in the usual way - the dread of diving headfirst into another crazy term at school, the inevitable 'diet' and 'I'm going to be a better person' resolutions. The hamster wheel began it's usual turning, getting faster and faster during that first quarter of the year.


Then in April, my world, as I knew it, came crashing down around me and I was forced into a period of rest. I was off work for a number of months while I 'coped' with what had happened - you can read a little about it here. I returned to work before the summer under extremely strenuous circumstances and found myself facing big changes in my job. I pushed my anxiety as deep down as I possibly could and made it my priority to enjoy a glorious summer off with family. Which I did. It was probably one of our best summers yet. Little did I know what was ahead of me ...

Bon Iver

Bon Iver

My sister won tickets to see Jess Glynn!

My sister won tickets to see Jess Glynn!



BBQ, s'mores and G&T's on bonfire night at Cavehill

BBQ, s'mores and G&T's on bonfire night at Cavehill

The hottest day of the summer at The Port

The hottest day of the summer at The Port

Villa life in Mallorca

Villa life in Mallorca

Mallorca coffee hangs

Mallorca coffee hangs

After a wonderful summer I genuinely felt good about getting back to work properly, even in a new campus, classroom and with new pupils. The perfectionist in me made sure I'd ticked all the boxes, dotted all my i's and crossed all my t's. I had spent 2 days in the summer clearing out my old classroom and re-doing up the new one. It was an emotional process, but I was confident that if all was 'aesthetically pleasing' to the eye, those niggling feelings gurgling in the pit of my stomach would go away. How wrong I was. 

A happy yellow planner wasn't enough to stop what was about to come!

A happy yellow planner wasn't enough to stop what was about to come!

Just a few short weeks into September, something quite small and simple was enough to stop and catapult me right off the tracks. (I promise I'll give you more details soon, this is just a taster of the full story.) But, believe me when I say, I was face down. Worse than before. I couldn't comprehend the WHY. I began to wrestle. I wrestled and wrestled and wrestled furiously with God over a number of days/weeks, shouting at him, questioning why and crying out in my utter desperation. 

"God, why would you do this to me?!"

"Why can I not stop feeling this way?!"

I endured a period of time where all I felt was failure, shame and guilt. Yet, as I poured my whole self out to the Lord, he began to whisper right into my innermost being. I slowly began to realise where I'd been going wrong. Where I've always been going wrong. 

You see, I try to be in control ... always. My weight. My job. My emotions. Everything

This kind of lifestyle is exhausting. Completely, devastatingly exhausting. Especially as a full time working mum. I was running on empty, trying to look calm, cool and collected on the outside. Even before what happened in April, I was fraying at the edges, refusing to accept that the pace of life I was living, simply wasn't and isn't sustainable. 


As I listened closely to the Lord, in my complete brokenness, I began to hear, very clearly, what he was saying to me. When I fully grasped a hold of what I was hearing - I could not believe it! (I intend on sharing the details very soon!) What I can say now, as I stand in the doorway of a new year, closing the door on 2017, I am closing it with complete assurance of who I am and what I am called to do as the door of 2018 begins to open. I quite literally closed one door career-wise (!) and am now stepping into an unknown territory of wide open space, creative freedom and ministry! 

This print by lovely Lisa at @whitechalkstudio was kindly gifted to me, prophetically! 

This print by lovely Lisa at @whitechalkstudio was kindly gifted to me, prophetically! 

As I step into this unknown space, I step alongside so many wonderful women who have poured into my life over this last quarter of 2017. Honestly, you wouldn't believe the ways in which connections have been made, friendships forged and pathways have crossed. Truly, it is only with God, all these things and more are possible! I actually cannot wait to share all the details with you over the coming weeks! To show you how God's hand has protected me, guided me and pushed me forward into new and exciting things. How creative and inspiring women have spoke wisdom, encouragement and hope into my life. And how God's faithfulness is unwavering, never changing, solid as a rock through ALL things, ALL circumstances and ALL seasons. 


So in the spirit of Disney's Frozen (which Phoebe absolutely adores) I welcome 2018, declaring boldly, with Christ who gives me strength:

Let it go

Let it go

No holding back any more.

Let it go

Let it go

Turn away and shut the door.

Here I stand

In the light of day

in front of an open door ...


"For there is NOTHING I cannot master with the help of Christ who gives me strength."

- Phillipians 4 v 13


Toilet Training Toddler Tales - Part 1

MotherhoodSteph DukeComment

Disclaimer: a lot of talk of pee peeing and pooping!


As Phoebe is the first and only baby on both sides of our family, I ventured into toilet training completely clueless and with the aim to take it one day at a time. I was never really concerned about getting Phoebe out of nappies before this summer as the thought of toilet training during a school term was just all a bit much! The plan was to tackle it head on at the very beginning of the summer holidays and typical as it is with a little one, the plan did not go as planned!! Poor Phoebe started her summer holidays with what I suspect was slapped cheek so we held off with the training until she was back to her normal wee self.


Our toilet training journey began on the 12th of July and armed with copious pairs of ‘knickies’ and a bagful of treats, we whipped the nappy off and put nice new knickies on. Being a two and a half year old meant that Phoebe was well aware of what a toilet was and that big girls used a toilet instead of a nappy. Whether she would successfully make the transition to ‘big girl using the toilet’ was anyone’s guess!



Day One: The sun was out so Phoebe spent the morning outside playing in and out of the paddling pool and kitchen. I felt relatively content as any accidents could be easily cleaned on the patio and kitchen tiles, and her wee spot to lie on the sofa was ‘pee-proofed’ with some bin bags and a blanket! I found myself continually asking Phoebe if she needed to pee and that we would be going to the toilet, ‘no pee pee’s in our knickies!’ It wasn’t long before she was starting to look like she needed to go and when she declared ‘NAPPY ON!’ we headed for the downstairs toilet (very handy for toilet training!) The closer we got to the bathroom, the more she pulled the other way, and as I lifted her towards the toilet she clung to me like a monkey, screaming blue murder! Could I get her to sit on the toilet? Not a chance. It was clear she was scared and rightly so. That big hole, ready to suck you in as soon as you get near, never mind actually sitting on it!! Okay, what next?



Thankfully my husband Matt was at home that day too so we deliberated about going to town for a toddler toilet seat or a potty, but decided we’d give her a bit more time. I liked the idea of training straight onto the big toilet for so many reasons, but if it was going to be too much of a leap, that would be ok too. I knew what I had to do … I Googled ‘toilet training girls.’ I’d avoided reading up on toilet training beforehand. I fell into this trap when I was pregnant and promised myself I didn’t need information overload; that I could trust myself, and my own motherly instincts. It only took one failed attempt at sitting on the toilet for Phoebe and I was straight on Google – what am I doing wrong?! Am I a bad mum?! How do I do this?! I bet everyone else is doing it better than me … blah blah blah … you know the score. Pathetic, I know. Yet, sometimes I just can’t help myself. Former American President Theodore Roosevelt speaks so much truth that “comparison is the thief of joy.” I consciously have to stop myself, especially in my weak moments. It doesn’t help. It will never help.


I allowed myself just 5 minutes to scroll. I saw one comment that sparked something for me; something about using a toy to role-play the toileting scenario. So, out came ‘Princess’ and I role-played ‘Princess needing to pee’ with Phoebe. She seemed more than happy to bring Princess into the bathroom, propped her up on the toilet seat and we mimicked a ‘peeing sound’ and practiced wiping and washing her hands. We clapped our hands and told Princess she was a “brilliant girl” and I asked Phoebe if she could pee in the toilet just like ‘Princess’? A resounding … ‘NO.’

Great. What now?  


By now I was in need of a pee myself so I asked Phoebe if she’d like to watch how mummy ‘pee pee’s’ in the big toilet and she was keen … a bit too keen. While I peed in the toilet, Phoebe peed on the floor ...


Oh dear.


Keep calm.


I inform Phoebe that we don’t like to pee in our pants and suggest that maybe we could use the toilet next time!


For her afternoon nap we put on some pull up pants (‘sleepy nappy’) and aim to get her sitting on the toilet when she wakes up! Matt’s ‘genius’ idea to encourage Phoebe to sit on the toilet is to do it ‘with mummy.’ This involved me straddling the toilet seat behind Phoebe and praying that she didn’t suddenly feel the urge to do a poo! And there we sat, several times during the course of the afternoon waiting and wishing for that elusive pee pee to come. 


At one stage I heard a call from outside while I was in the kitchen but I couldn’t hear properly and by the time I got out, Phoebe had peed on the patio! I was so cross at myself for not hearing her and vowed to pay even closer attention to her to ensure if she did say she had to go, I’d be right there. The next goal was to get her sitting on the toilet herself, so little bags of sweeties became the bribing tool! The rest of the day consisted of Phoebe successfully sitting on the toilet all by herself, eating bags of sweets from Lidl – hygienic, I know! But, my little girl was sitting on the big toilet, quite happily now in fact, and I was the proudest mum in the world. 


Oh! And if you're wondering, Phoebe's only pee on Day One was in her nappy at nap-time and as soon as she got into the bath before bed – sneaky sneaky!!


TBC – Day Two and that first pee!

'Present over perfect'

MotherhoodSteph DukeComment
White Park Bay, Northern Ireland

White Park Bay, Northern Ireland

It's been too long ... I know. Even this very blog post has been sitting written and pending for weeks now...

Please forgive me, and hear me out. 


This part of my life - My Little Duke - has been saddeningly sacrificed as I've battled through my 5 day, full time teaching workload and mummy role to my 2 and a half year old daughter! It's been relatively easy to keep IG posts up to date but the shop, and the ... blog - I can only apologise and hope you'll stick with me!! This is not the next blog post I'd planned but these words found their way together just today (now weeks ago) so here goes ...


A week in April: It's been a challenging week. It's not been the week I'd been expecting and certainly not the week I'd ever expect to have. But it's been an important week for me. I've been forced to stop and evaluate. Stop and pray. Stop and take stock. For more time than I care to remember, but especially since January of this year, my life has been running at an exhausting pace. Always something to be done (usually what should have been done days, even weeks before!) One day I was forced out of my routine and into the unknown because of an incident. This 'unknown' for me is a frightening place but it's a place that I'm beginning to learn is where I'm actually supposed to be right now. 

Co. Sligo

Co. Sligo


It's Saturday today and the sun has been splitting the trees for the most part of the day. No plans were made and Phoebe ended up in bed between Matt and I at 9am. Matt made an interesting comment that really struck a chord with me.

He said, "it's been ages since we did this."

He was right.

I struggled to remember the last time we snuggled under the duvet on a Saturday morning - all three of us. Together.

The past few weeks/months have been and gone in a blur, with Matt and I, (more often than not) passing like ships in the night. So this morning was sweetly savoured. Those precious moments were enjoyed and ingrained in my memory as I vowed to ensure it wouldn't be so long until we did it again. This seems like an appropriate way to have started today. Little did I know that the rest of the day would be so important; what feels like a real turning point in my life. I needed a change. I needed a pause button. I needed this. I never thought that what happened to me would EVER happen. Yet it did. And it happened ... to me. I can't give you the details. Know this though...

I am fine and I am finding myself again. 


After breakfast the three of us headed off to our local park. I basked in the sunshine, watching Daddy and daughter potter around the park. We went round and round the roundabout while Phoebe squealed in delight as we whizzed faster and faster! She slid the slide countless times screaming, "Again, again!" after every turn. After the park we strolled the green fields before making our way to the bakery for our favourite iced and sugar doughnuts.



Phoebe was absolutely zonked, and as soon as we arrived home she went for her afternoon snooze. Matt headed off to his studio to mix and I popped the kettle on, grabbing a summer chair and 'Present over Perfect' by Shauna Niequist.

This book is a life changing one.

I'm not being hyperbolic here, I'm being honest.

Every page and every word have resonated so deeply with my soul and spirit. I had meant to finish it long ago but there never seemed to be the right moment. Today was the right moment. I settled in and began to read ... I don't know if it was the birds chirping, the gentle breeze, the clickety clack of a train passing nearby. Or, if it was the warmth of the spring sunshine as Phoebe snoozed peacefully after her morning adventures, but ...

I felt content.

I felt peace.

I felt more alive than I've felt for an awfully long time.

Glencar, Co. Sligo

Glencar, Co. Sligo

Shauna's words became so real to me and I began to realise that there are some serious changes that need to be made in my life. Deep down I knew I couldn't continue the way I was going. My life was like a tram, rolling at speed along a track, speeding up all the while and gradually getting out of control. I felt out of control of so many things in my life. I have spent the best part of the last 10 years dieting and I wouldn't dare to total up the number of times I've stepped on and off the scales in my bathroom. After spending such a long time controlling my eating, more recently, even that seemed to be slipping out of my control.

I was beginning to crumble from the inside out.

My hormones have been haywire and just coping with day-to-day mummy/house/teacher stuff has been a huge struggle. Interestingly, it has taken something completely unexpected and completely out of my control to make the biggest impact. In the aftermath of an intense week I sat in my front porch and Shauna's words came alive


"Learn to live lightly, freely, courageously, surrounded only by what brings joy, simplicity, and beauty."


Only God can truly satisfy our deepest longings and desires. In my total weakness, and sitting facing an uncertain outcome, I was utterly certain of one thing - Jesus.


He is everything. 


White Park Bay Beach

White Park Bay Beach

Moving forward, I intend to put a few markers in the sand, metaphorically drawing a line of separation between what's been and gone and what I am stepping into. It's Sunday now (again, this was weeks ago) and this verse was declared over our kids ministry this morning. I'm claiming it as my mantra for moving forward: 


"You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you."

~ Psalm 8 v 2 ~


It is with boldness in faith in Christ I go. Earthly future uncertain. Heavenly inheritance certain.