My Little Duke

motherhood

Act Two.

Blogging, Motherhood, FaithSteph DukeComment
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God has been taking me on quite a journey over the last 18 months or so. The life I’m living right now looks completely different to the one that I imagined I’d be living. My life looks so different in fact, that I would have laughed out loud if someone had told me that at just 29 years of age, I would quit my full-time, permanent teaching job because God told me to! I would never have believed that I’d be working from home: blogging, creating paid content online and curating a motherhood journal. I couldn’t have ever even dreamed that I’d get to be the mum who walks her daughter to school every morning and picks her up again when school ends. Me hosting a women’s weekend retreat?! Not a chance! I would never have ever thought I could do something like that … yet God did. Praise God that He got my attention during a season of my life that was headed for disaster. My rollercoaster cart was running at high-speed round a well-worn track. It never stopped. All day, every day it was whizzing round and round, twisting and turning. And the wheels were starting to wear thin. Just as my cart was ready to come right off the tracks … God stepped in. 


For an awfully long time I lived my life trying to be everything to everyone. This was especially prevalent in my job as a teacher. I was on a constant mission of seeking approval. Deep down my heart was in the right place, but my actions flowed out of a wrong personal desire. If I’m totally honest, even though I called myself a Christian, I wasn’t seeking to glorify God. I was seeking to glorify myself. I played many roles as I performed Act One of my life. I was the Playwright in charge of penning the script. I was Director too, with the mindset that as long as I continually tried to control the unfolding of my pages, things would work out ok. How wrong I was. Finally I was also the Actor who was sometimes so worn out from all the writing and directing jobs I’d given myself, that I had no energy left to actually be present and act out the life I’d been striving so damn hard to create!  But thankfully God has rewritten the scenes in Act Two. I’ve come through a really tough process of learning how to hand over the reigns, how to submit control and let God be the master craftsman – exactly what He ought to always be. And I must clarify here that I am still learning. I’m not yet at the place of total daily submission. It’s not yet a learned behaviour. I am really trying though. My default mode is always to revert back to ‘control’. It’s my coping mechanism and my well-worn pathway. Yet now I know how dangerous it is to allow myself to live and operate out of that place. It doesn’t make it any easier for me to stop and hand stuff to God mind you, but I’m becoming more and more inclined to do so in this new season. 


So how did I get to this new season? If I can summarise it for you, it would look something like this. I ended up off work for a number of months because of a horrible incident involving a pupil at school. I’m grateful to God that I wasn’t hurt and that it wasn’t my fault. However, it jolted me out of my high-speed rollercoaster cart and forced me to sit a’while with God. In this quiet place - away from the hustle and away from the noise - suddenly it was just God and I. I tried to ignore His gentle whisper but I knew we really needed to talk. There was a lot of stuff that wasn’t (and still isn’t) right. When I finally (after several months) chose to listen … He changed my world. He gave me such a clear word about quitting my job that I felt I didn’t have a choice not to. I received this word when I was at my absolute lowest; down on my knees, crying out to God in desperation one afternoon. It was a day when I felt like I had no-one to talk to and no-where to turn. I felt trapped, isolated and frightened about my situation in school and could not cope being so out of control. I feared the past, the present and the future in those moments before God spoke. I shouted at Him “WHY!” and furiously questioned “What are you doing God?!” Yet as soon as I heard His voice, everything changed. There would be no going back. 


I allowed myself to crumble and fall to pieces on that floor, that day. And in His goodness and grace, God picked up each and every broken piece of me and began to put my puzzle back together again. He is in the business of doing that you know? Fixing broken things, broken people. He is still fixing me. Still moulding me into the person He sees me becoming. It’s all about perspective you see. God sees the big picture. We see but a mere fraction of our puzzle. We get so hung up on that tiny portion of our life when God is trying to lift our eyes off ourselves and our circumstances, and onto Him. When we focus on who He is … not on who we are or what we are doing, perspective changes.


I still lose perspective, even in this season. Despite knowing and trusting God’s plans and purposes for my life – I still lose perspective sometimes. I still try and get that old rollercoaster cart moving again. It’s habit you see. Those pathways are well travelled. The territory is too familiar.  But there is a big difference in me this season. Instead of seeking to glorify myself, my goal is to always bring glory to Him. If I mess up, I come right back to the foot of the cross every time and I start all over again. Before, I would never have stopped for a moment to even allow God near.  I would have convinced myself that I didn’t need Him around, that I was fine on my own, that I was totally ‘in control’. Now, if I catch myself attempting to take control I run straight to God and surrender myself to Him all over again. It frightens me how quickly old patterns can creep back in and how the enemy waits ready to pounce like a lion when we have a weak moment. So my challenge this season is to continue to allow God to work in me, no matter what the cost, no matter how hard it feels sometimes. There is so much ‘unknown’ about my life right now but I face it with certainty for I know and trust the hand that puts the pen to my paper and writes the pages of my play. Act Two … I’m ready for you! 


“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29 v 11

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My Sligo Solo Retreat

Faith, Motherhood, TravelSteph DukeComment

I read a while ago about a ‘Solo Retreat’ and was instantly intrigued. There was something about setting aside intentional time for resting and writing in God’s presence that appealed to me – deeply, in my heart.

A few weeks ago, while in Sligo with family, I knew that if I ever were to be brave enough to book a solo retreat – I’d do it in Sligo. Several recent trips here have confirmed to me that this is a place where I can and should write. It’s a place that feels like home, but doesn’t come with the baggage that I associate with my own house. I love my home – don’t get me wrong – but when I’m at home I see everything that’s ‘unfinished’, everything that ‘needs doing’ and everything that can and will distract me from sitting down and writing.

There are lots of these same issues in Sligo, but I just don’t think about them here, and they definitely don’t distract me. I accept these same imperfections, yet at home they constantly play heavily on my mind and I can’t settle until I tidy, or clean, or do laundry … and I could keep going! Perfectionism is something I’ve always struggled with and it’s something God and I are working through. But a conversation with Matt just a few days ago helped me be brave, make the move and arrange my very first solo retreat. Practicing obedience is brave and I’m slowly learning how to live a life in surrender and obedience to Christ.

My room for the night

My room for the night

Hill House, Co. Sligo

Hill House, Co. Sligo

Financially, coming to Sligo for 24 hours doesn’t cost me a lot as I’m blessed to be able to use my in-laws accommodation at Hill House free of charge. The only cost is for fuel for travel and if I were to eat out while here. But obviously there is a personal cost – leaving my daughter and husband. If I were to write a pros and cons list I’d be at it all day and never make a decision. Phoebe and her Daddy enjoyed quality time together and I too, enjoyed my own quality time: uninterrupted and undistracted time to be productive, to hear God’s voice and to come home rested and grateful; more able and equipped to be a better mum and wife.

So what did my solo retreat consist of? For me I needed three things:

  1. Quiet
  2. No distractions
  3. Time

I was in desperate need of quiet time to process the myriad of thoughts and ideas swirling endlessly round my head. And I needed somewhere with no distractions. No bums to wipe or juice to refill, no-one yelling ‘Muuuuuummmmmmy’ every 5 minutes. I also needed time - a good, decent chunk of time to sit and process said thoughts and ideas. 10 or 20 minutes when I can grab it just isn’t working for me. Not when I’m in a season of hearing frequent downloads from God, trying to navigate these new waters of being ‘self-employed’ and figuring out what the future might look like for my family including how the heck I might ever make any money again!

I packed my little suitcase, filled my water tank in the Twingo and set off for Sligo - armed with my bible, laptop and several journals. I knew I was doing the right thing but that didn’t stop me feeling anxious about leaving Phoebe and even more so about spending the night solo! Yet, deep down I always knew I was never really ‘that’ far away and if I needed to, I could race back down the road to home.

The journey down felt strange, but good. I only had to think about myself. What did I want to listen to? No nursery rhymes or music picked by Matt. My choice. I pressed play on a series of podcasts I’d been meaning to listen to and didn’t look back. I devoured several podcasts – all very timely, affirming and encouraging. I started to feel more at ease and as I crossed the border and the landscape began to change, I felt peace.

In the 15 years I’ve travelled the road to Sligo, I’ve never once stopped being captivated by the landscape. It’s no wonder Yeats’ found inspiration from this Western isle of Ireland. The ruggedness, the contours of the mountains and the wild coastline all create a special kind of magic I’ve only ever felt here. And as I drove the country lane towards my retreat I stopped for the first time at a lake I’ve passed hundreds of times on route to Hill House. There was no toddler who ‘might wake up’ or husband to ask to ‘pull over’ – it was just me - I took the opportunity with both hands to pull into the lay-by and press pause on this moment in time I was never going to get back.

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I can totally see the appeal of solo travel! There’s such ease, speed and a wonderful freedom to explore. Having major life regrets right now! How did I get to 30 years of age and not try to see more of our planet!? Anyway, I stood lakeside in awe of the view and savoured the silence. This was why I did this. Thank you Lord for allowing me opportunity to press pause and enjoy your presence.

After arriving I took some time to make a plan of action and settled myself with my laptop and journal. It felt good to be productive and enjoy writing in a slightly calmer environment! At tea-time I took a drive out to the coast for something to eat (I’d driven up through lunch so was needing some sustenance) and enjoyed some good food and planning by the sea, followed by a nice fresh walk. I wasn’t as productive in the evening as I would have liked (I never am), but took the opportunity to get an early night and a luxurious uninterrupted sleep.

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Shells sea-side bakery & cafe

Shells sea-side bakery & cafe

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Strandhill

Strandhill

I have to admit that waking up naturally is a pretty nice way to wake up - something that just doesn’t happen to parents of small children! I’m usually jolted awake by a toddler poking and prodding my face, telling me she’s ‘soooo firsty Mummy!’ My solo morning schedule started with a blissful breakfast and worship. This is the way all my mornings should start. Are you like me – full of good intentions but never the follow-through? If every morning started the way today did, my world would be a better place. I’ll not be expecting a blissful breakfast, but breakfast and worship has got to be achievable! Time spent with the Father is never wasted time and like any good relationship, it is so good to talk.

Time was moving on quickly and I’d planned to do some studying and writing at my favourite little French bakery. I’d enough Euros to buy me an hour and a half to sit in the sun and do some much needed prep for a very exciting event that’s coming up. Fuelled by a chocolate cruffin and coffee, I set to work and enjoyed a really productive session - time, once again, where I felt God close, speaking to me as I studied His Word and put pen to paper.

Le Fournil

Le Fournil

Next up was a swim! I had allowed myself time to go to the beach if I’d been productive at the bakery, and what a sweet, sweet reward. The sun had begun to peek out of the clouds as I parked the car and dawned my swimwear. The beach was almost empty and I plunged into the water with a thankful heart. God you are so, so good to me. The sea was cold and clear, the air salty and fresh. The sun even stayed around just long enough to allow me 10 minutes to lay down and dry off. Total and utter bliss. This simple act is something I completely took for granted before I had a child. I savoured every single second on that sand before heading back home.   

I got back in the car with salty skin, sandy toes and a full heart. Even though I didn’t achieve everything on my list, I received everything that I personally needed and more. I queued up the podcasts and began the drive home, thankful and excited to see my family and implement some new processes into home life that ensure that I can be the best mum and wife that I can be, and live a life worthy to be called a follower of Christ.

Rosses Point

Rosses Point

I swam in this water - beautiful Rosses Point 

I swam in this water - beautiful Rosses Point 

So would I recommend a solo retreat? Yes I would. It’s not the sort of thing that will suit everybody. It will certainly look different for you than for me. But I can 100% assure you that it was needed for me, at the right moment in my life. It was a time of preparation, evaluation and consolidation of what has gone before and where God is leading me to in the future. I needed this time to be Mary, not Martha. All my life I’ve tried to live a Martha lifestyle when I need to be more like Mary. Will I do another solo retreat? Yes I think I will. Not for quite some time I’m sure, but it is definitely worthwhile.

Have you ever been on a solo retreat or done something similar? I’d love to know where / how / why! Is a solo retreat something you would be interested in doing? Perhaps a small group retreat is of more interest to you? Please get in touch as I’d love to hear your thoughts. Email me at steph@mylittleduke.com if this is you! 

Why Neal's Yard Remedies?

Beauty, Motherhood, FaithSteph DukeComment

As many of you will know I’ve been on a bit of a journey since quitting my teaching job last October. These last few months have been a crucial time of rediscovering who I am and what I’m called to do. For 6 years, teaching defined me. It’s where I found my identity, my value and my worth. Then, when career was suddenly stripped away from me, I began to realise my value system was all kinds of wrong and I knew exactly where to look to begin to fix it.

God has taken me on quite a learning curve, and the process is still ongoing. There’s been a lot of rewiring, refocusing and relearning stuff about myself and about God. I’m incredibly grateful to be able to say that the Lord has been so faithful to our family, gently leading us every step of the way. It doesn’t mean that I’m getting everything right, certainly not! But, knowing Him close and trusting His voice gives me an amazing peace that I had been missing.

So without the title of ‘teacher’ – who even am I? This is something I’ve been exploring and carving some time and space to discover. During this process I’ve unearthed some skills and passions that had previously been lying dormant - creativeness that was buried so far beneath the surface; weighed down by busyness, distraction and a mind too narrow to even comprehend the idea that I was creative at all!  A writer?! Ha! You must be joking!

Well, no. Actually.

I have been assured, more than ever, that God has called me to write, to speak, to put pen to paper, fingers to keys … to be a voice. It’s more a charge to be obedient to Him and to the dreams he is continually writing on my heart, no matter how crazy they seem! So I’ll keep writing and keep dreaming. I’ll keep learning and filling my basket with my God-given skills, gifts and talents. I take no credit! It’s all Him - His grace and goodness. He is so kind! And I’ll keep adding so that I can keep giving away … this is where Neal’s Yard comes in.

The table from my launch party - @justlaurajayne must get credit for this!!

The table from my launch party - @justlaurajayne must get credit for this!!

Becoming an Independent Consultant for Neal’s Yard Remedies is another string to my bow, another beautiful tool in my basket. It’s hopefully a way for me to earn a little extra income and to enjoy and to share the gorgeous range with you. As my kit grows, so too does my passion and confidence in a brand that I can stand by and support. The stats speak for themselves: British-owned Neal’s Yard Remedies is award winning, ethical and organic. It seeks to leave a gentle environmental footprint and to trade fairly. Yes. Just yes. God cares about our wellbeing and how we look after our planet, and as I seek to lead a slower, more simple and joyful life, I find Neal’s Yard just fits. The people-oriented nature of being a Consultant appeals to my heart for community and conversation, and I am falling more in love with the products every day. The work is flexible and I can do as little or as much as suits me in this season. I’m excited to get creative with it and use it to bless others too.  

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A little disclaimer - I am no Neal’s Yard expert! I’m just at the beginning of my Consultant journey so please go easy on me! If I don’t know the answer to your questions, I’ll be sure to go and find them out for you. My range of products is only small and I can only speak from my limited experience, but I do hope I can give you a little idea of what you can expect from this brilliant blue bottle brand!

What I particularly love about Neal’s Yard though, is that it’s more than just good skincare. It’s holistic health: it’s looking and feeling good from the inside out. Using Neal’s Yard products genuinely brings me great joy. I remember getting my first samples and being surprised at how much I loved them. Over the last few months I’ve introduced some Neal’s Yard products into my daily skincare routine. I’ve been using and continue to use the ‘Your Good Skin’ range from Boots (you can read all about my journey with YGS here) - it’s very affordable (one of the reasons I’d been using it) but it never felt like something really special. Neal’s Yard ticks all the boxes for me. It feels like a luxury product but doesn’t have the luxury price tag. It’s a balance and I get what I’m paying for – and just a little product goes a very long way!

The beautiful 'bee lovely' hand wash!

The beautiful 'bee lovely' hand wash!

Can I let you in on a wee secret? Neal’s Yard is the only range that actually makes me take off my makeup at night! Shameful I know! Please don’t judge me! But, I am the world’s laziest person when it comes to beauty. However, you’ll be proud that I have been faithfully removing my makeup, toning and moisturising every night – and enjoying it too! I love the luxuriousness of Neal’s Yard. Each use feels like such a treat. I’ve been waiting for the novelty to wear off but it hasn’t. In fact, I’m falling more in love with the products the more I use them! I take real delight even in washing my hands now – it’s the simple joys for me these days. The ‘bee lovely’ hand wash that was meant for the guest bathroom has managed to find a permanent home on my bathroom shelf – and it’s currently on sale! Hooray! I’ve also enjoyed some really special moments with my 3-year-old daughter Phoebe using Neal’s Yard. She loves the ‘bee lovely’ range – especially getting to sit with her hands in a bowl of warm water with the hand wash and getting a little special treatment from mummy. She adores the smell and getting to put the hand cream on! The last time we did it together I had a real God-moment – He reminded me of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and the call to service. Like I said earlier, for me, Neal’s Yard is another way I can serve and bless others. 

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Life is busy. Life is stressful. For me, Neal’s Yard is my way of injecting a little joy into my days. Whether it’s just washing my hands, moisturising my face or whether it’s those special moments of important self-care: taking a bath or putting a facemask on – Neal’s Yard products put a smile on my face every time I use them. This same experience is what I want to share with you. Even in the short time that I’ve been a consultant (just a few weeks) I’ve enjoyed watching some of you fall in love with the products and been delighted to treat you with samples or a bit of pampering. More of this please!

If you are in Northern Ireland and would like to get sampling some products with friends, please drop me a line. I’d love nothing more than to come and to serve and pamper you, while introducing you to Neal’s Yard. As a host you receive a free host gift and discounted shopping too! Or, if you’re reading this and thinking that being a Neal’s Yard consultant could work for you – I’d love to have a chat and give you the details on the huge range of benefits you can enjoy as a consultant. Plus, you’d be joining my team and we could journey together!

The award winning, multi-use wild rose beauty balm!

The award winning, multi-use wild rose beauty balm!

You can nosey and order through my own consultant website for Neal's Yard - just click here. Alternatively, if you've any questions about NYRO or being a hostess I'd love to hear from you!

Things are a’changing a little for My Little Duke. The rebrand is nearly complete and I’m so excited to share the new online space with you and see where the next season takes us!

As always, thank you for reading and sharing in my journey! I love having you around ...

Steph xox

Mummy Cooks Review

Bakes, Motherhood, Food, BloggingSteph DukeComment

I first met the lovely Siobhan Berry of Mummy Cooks at a Pregnancy & Baby Fair not long after having my first and only daughter Phoebe. We chatted about her weaning pots and recipes and I purchased a set of starter weaning pots. The set included a range of sizes of pots, perfect for sizing different portions during different stages of Phoebe's weaning journey. 

Order yours  here

Order yours here

On my return to work, my husband and I started trialling a two-weekly grocery shop to try and ease the pressure of cooking and meal planning. We had a fixed menu of recipes to work from and two of our favourites were Mummy Cooks recipes: Coconut Chicken Curry & Spaghetti Bolognese. Both recipes are baby friendly, easy to batch cook and freeze. We regularly still eat both dishes!

Baby friendly Coconut Chicken Curry - Phoebe enjoyed eating this from 6 months!

Baby friendly Coconut Chicken Curry - Phoebe enjoyed eating this from 6 months!

Just a few weeks ago I kindly received Siobhan's new Baby & Family Recipe Book. This is her first ever book and it's just bursting with advice and recipes for families. I love her simple philosophy: Cook for family, adapt for baby. Her belief that introducing family meals from the start encourages children to eat more adventurously is one I have found to be true. I just wish I'd had this book sooner! 

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My daughter Phoebe loves to bake, so last Saturday we tried out Siobhan's Banana & Berry Muffins from the recipe book. Again, the recipe is freezer friendly and super easy to follow and make. We really enjoyed the results too!

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I'd highly recommend Siobhan's book, especially for parents with small children. I've learned so much from the book already: proper food storage, following the seasonal calendar when choosing food and reading labels. I'd particularly recommend this book for those who are on, or who about to start the weaning process - Siobhan provides invaluable information to help you if you are on that journey. Please do check out her website too, there's a wealth of information, loads more recipes and really helpful advice for parents. 

* This recipe book was gifted to me as part of a collaboration with Mummy Cooks. All thoughts and opinions are my own. You can buy a copy of Siobhan's book here