My Little Duke

Fashion

Strollin’ solo in London

Blogging, Fashion, TravelSteph DukeComment

Many of you will know that for the last few months I’ve been a brand ambassador for the British clothing company, Boden. Within this community came the opportunity to attend Boden’s Autumn/Winter preview in London … I grabbed it with both hands!

Was I terrified? Yes.

Did I feel like an imposter? Absolutely, yes.

Would this opportunity come again? Probably not.

I’d already been on a solo trip to Brussels in March, so travelling alone wasn’t my biggest fear. Imposter syndrome was. But I put the Boden event out of my mind and concentrated on planning my 2 days solo in London.

The trip was just before my birthday so that felt like a good ‘excuse’ to justify such an excursion. In reality, I didn’t need to justify it at all. What an opportunity to not only attend the exclusive preview, but to visit my Auntie for the first time. Looking back, I don’t know why I’ve never thought to go over and stay with my Auntie before? Flights to London can be bought very cheaply and my Aunt lives in Surbiton, just a short train ride outside of the city. I’ll certainly not be leaving it too long before visiting my Aunt again!

I’d booked an early flight on the Tuesday morning and a late flight home on Wednesday night. However, I was flying from Dublin. If I’d booked earlier, I could have flown from Belfast, but in order to get a decent price for my flight, Dublin was my best option. I’d flown solo from Dublin to Brussels, so knew I could do the early drive down and late drive home again ok. Not 100% ideal obviously, but I really didn’t mind. I’ve driven to Dublin numerous times and I always use Quick Park for my car. Once you’ve done it once, it’s no trouble.

Following my trip to Brussels I’ve been challenged to be more conscious about reducing my environmental footprint. I vowed to take both my coffee keepcup and water flask with me – and more importantly – use them! I filled my flask at the free water station at the airport and used my keepcup for my morning coffee.

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Matt had bought me a new travel bag for my birthday as I was panicking about what bag to bring with me. I needed something that I could carry around comfortably for the two days – but something that I could fit all my stuff inside! Thanks Ryanair for the ‘challenge’ to pack light. It was a no brainer about what bag to buy – a Madlug Day Bag. It was the perfect shape and size, and with every purchase, the cost of that bag covers a free bag for a child in care. Now all I had to do was fit all my stuff in. Staying with my Aunt meant that I could borrow some bigger/heavier items such as shampoo, straighteners etc – so I really only had to pack the basics. I actually surprised myself with how little I managed to bring! And after travelling with a toddler, flying solo with a backpack brings a wonderful sense of freedom and ease!

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I’d pre-booked my Stansted Express train tickets online and knew how to get to the train from a previous visit, but when I arrived at the gate I was told that the train wasn’t running and I’d need to get a bus. I made a mental note of the other people around me who were also travelling to Liverpool St station and stayed with them as we headed to find the bus to take us where we needed to go. Thankfully there was a bus to take us to Witham station and then we’d be able to catch a train straight to Liverpool St. Our Stansted Express tickets were still valid for the rerouted journey and it was all relatively painless, despite being on my own. I’d purposely travelled on the Tuesday morning rather than the Wednesday so I wouldn’t have any panic about getting to the Boden event on time. Such a wise decision! The cancelled train didn’t cost me any extra cash, but it did cost me time in getting into the city. Despite being up and travelling from 3am, I didn’t actually make it to Liverpool St station until almost noon. But I definitely felt relieved when I’d finally made it into the city. The day was now mine for the taking!

Despite having gone to Brussels solo, there wasn’t ever any chance to go exploring by myself. Our schedule was a tightly packed one, whereas my ‘schedule’ for London was pretty fluid! I had a few places that I hoped to tick off my list, but keeping the trip flexible was my priority. I was just excited to have the *very rare* space and time to stroll the streets of London with zero expectations or responsibilities.

I could do what I wanted, when I wanted.

I could eat what I wanted, where I wanted.

Amazing.

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I am someone who actually quite enjoys her own company. My Auntie couldn’t comprehend how on earth I wouldn’t be bored and tried to convince me to see if I could get an earlier flight home! I assured her that my time in London was highly anticipated and quite blissful to me!

On my arrival in Liverpool St station I headed straight into the Neal’s Yard Remedies store. One whiff of those diffusers and I was instantly relaxed! Next stop was the Krispy Kreme van. I nabbed a bench to enjoy my donut and make a plan of action. The weather was pretty miserable so I planned to head straight for The Sky Garden as it was only about a 20 minute walk away.

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I exited Liverpool St holding my umbrella in one hand and Google maps in the other, arriving at The Sky Garden about 20 minutes later.  There was a lady at the door and I asked her if I could get a ticket. With a sympathetic stare she informed me that tickets needed to be reserved at least 3 weeks prior to a visit.

Awesome.

Great start Steph!

I was totally gutted. The lady told me that they allowed walk-ins after 6pm if I wanted to come back then. So I shuffled my way into an entrance porch around the corner, sheltered from the rain, and reassessed the situation. I needed somewhere, not too far away, to wait out the rain for a bit. I remembered a cool coffee spot from my last visit to London with mum and Phoebs. We couldn’t go in last time because Phoebe was having a pure meltdown, so today seemed like a perfect opportunity to go! I could grab a coffee, escape the rain, and read my book - I’d borrowed Jen Chillingsworth’s ‘Live Green’ from a friend. It was a perfectly compact size for travelling and I was so excited to read it.

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Armed with my umbrella and Google maps once again I headed towards London Bridge. Thankfully the rain was easing and it wasn’t long before I recognised where I was, spying London Grind in the distance. The time was now 1pm and it made sense to grab lunch here. The staff were incredibly friendly and made me feel so welcome. I found my spot and ordered a G&T, cheeseburger and fries. Sure, why the heck not? The place was absolutely buzzing. I stayed and enjoyed the vibe at Grind until almost 2.30pm, making a plan of action for the afternoon, reading and enjoying a free flat white! There was a time when I would never have dared to sit anywhere on my own. I would have felt really awkward. How times can change! I was perfectly content for that hour and a half. And I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed that G&T and cheeseburger! Happy early birthday to me!

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After thanking the lovely girls who served me I headed out and towards South Bank. It was mizzling on and off but it didn’t make the walk too unpleasant. You just have to get on with it when you don’t have any other choice. And, even in the rain, South Bank was class. There was a real buzz about the place, with loads to see en route along the water. I stopped at The Globe Theatre, totally mesmerized, imagining myself as one of the crowd, watching Shakespeare back in the day. I checked out some cool shops at Bargehouse and Oxo Tower Wharf, enjoying a nosey in the Noodoll store, picking Phoebs up a wee present before heading towards the iconic London Eye.

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Unbelievably, the sun began to try to peek out of the clouds and I was able to put my umbrella away for the first time that day. The area surrounding the London Eye has loads to see and do, I leisurely took it all in before heading across the bridge towards Trafalgar Square.

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The time was now 4pm and I was due to be at my Aunt’s for tea around 6.30pm. I hotfooted it through St James’ Park after stopping briefly to see the guards on their horses at Horse Guards Parade.

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My last stop on day one was the infamous Peggy Porschen’s.  I can’t really call myself a proper ‘Instagrammer’ if I visit London and don’t go to Peggy’s, right?!

I jest.

I totally jest!

But, genuinely, I wanted to go for a right ol’ nosey. I had heard that the coffee was good but those famous cupcakes actually weren’t. So I decided to just see for myself.

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The whole area was actually really lovely and pink Peggy’s could be seen from quite a distance away. I could also see people getting their perfect ‘shot’ in front of that flower-adorned door! I stood and watched a number of very glamorous girls preening and posing – some actually not even going in to make a purchase! I sneakily managed to steal a few shots, careful to crop any posers out (!) before going in to order. I didn’t have long and the tables inside were all full, so I braved the cold and sat outside with a coffee and cupcake. Cue more preening and posing – honestly, every 3 minutes there was someone new taking their turn at the door! Once again, I just watched, taking it all in. I did, however, brave asking my waitress to snap a quick picture of me. I knew I’d have major regrets if I didn’t! I’ve made that mistake before.  Well, what I didn’t bet on was the sheer skill of said waitress. Clearly, she’d done this a million times before. Not awkward at all, she snapped away, clearly aiming for a perfect shot, cropping out the people who were in the queue and everything! I should have known! Anyway, time was moving swiftly on and I had a train to catch so I ate and drank up quickly. The coffee was indeed fine. The cupcake left much to be desired. It was awfully dry and definitely not award-winning.

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Checking my trusty Google maps, I headed swiftly towards the nearest station. This was the first time I’d used the train to travel and my contactless card to pay. Talk about handy. Tap to go in, tap to go out – zero hassle. I was well impressed and hopped onto the train … a little too hastily! I checked the line information above my head only to discover I was on the line to Chessington, rather than the line I needed to get to Surbiton. Thankfully the lines are clearly marked and I just jumped off at the next stop and on again when the next train came along. Doing that a few years ago definitely would have threw me, but I’m 100% more brave than I was mid-20s. Not more brave in all things mind you!

My lovely cousin picked me up from Surbiton station and brought me to her house to stay the night. We were at my Aunt’s by 6.30pm and I enjoyed a home-cooked meal, another wee G&T and a lovely catch up with my cousin and Aunt. We watched TV and I rested my weary feet. I felt truly thankful for my day in the city, but moreso for the rare time with my Aunt.  Not only did she make my dinner and put me up for the night, but she also ironed and hung up my Boden dress for the next day. I was ever so grateful.

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Day 2

Wednesday morning brought beautiful sunshine and I enjoyed catching up on a bit of sleep before breakfast and then packed up my bag for the day. My cousin dropped me back to Surbiton station for 10am and I got the train straight to Waterloo and then a tube to Covent Garden. In less than an hour I was back in the city centre, a Pret almond croissant in hand and headed for Boden HQ.

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I really tried not to think too much about the event for I knew I could easily talk myself out of it! As I approached the door I 100% faked what little confidence I could muster and walked inside. I was greeted by two lovely ladies - one ticked my name off the list and the other took my bag. It sure felt good to give my wee shoulders a break! I nipped to the loo to fix my hair only to find Elle Wright (@feathering_the_empty_nest) standing waiting at the bathroom door. Well, I nearly died. Ok, that’s totally melodramatic, but trust me when I say that I had a … ‘moment’. Instant imposter syndrome kicked in and I thought ‘what on earth am I doing here?’ Of course I tried to act real cool, totally not acknowledging the fact that I’ve been following Elle for quite some time. She’s only got like almost 112K followers. No biggie.

I tried to calm myself down in the loo and totally gave myself a wee pep talk in the mirror.

I can do this.

I can do this.

I exited the bathroom and headed straight to the cutest coffee cart I think I’ve ever seen.

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With a Boden-branded, oat flat white in hand, I nervously made my way upstairs, not knowing who on earth I might run into next. Yet, I need not have been nervous at all. The whole event was so relaxed and as soon as I saw the setup I was straight in for a look at the beautiful A/W collection. Some of Boden’s in-house designers were there and it was incredible to get a chance to chat with them and see them in action. There were delicious canapés and drinks to enjoy but I was far too nervous to take anything!

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I did eventually pluck up the courage to chat to Elle, and to the lovely Sally (@gettingstuffdoneinheels) as well. Gosh, they were so kind while I blabbered on about being too star-struck at the loos to introduce myself! It wasn’t long before we were joined by some familiar faces and I finally began to relax. Part of the preview involved the opportunity to get a personalised Boden printed plate to bring home. Designer, Author and Illustrator, Lisa Stickley was busy illustrating people’s pets and portraits during the event. I cannot tell you how chuffed I am with mine.

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Feeling extra brave after the event I made my way round the corner to Neal’s Yard. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. Neal’s Yard was looking particularly pretty. I’d contacted the Neal’s Yard Remedies store prior to arriving to see if I could go ‘live’ in store to demo a hand treatment. Legit, I walked around the shop for ages before finally introducing myself and having to do the ‘live’! I was definitely feeling the fear and doing it anyway! The staff were lovely though, and very accommodating; I met with Abigail to get ready for the hand demo. I still can’t believe I went ‘live’ on my Instagram in the store while getting a hand massage! Abi and I chatted about some of NYRO’s products and health benefits, before giving a tour around the store and a peek out at the Neal’s Yard courtyard.  I wish I had recorded the full conversation I had with Abigail. She had a wealth of knowledge to share and it was wonderful to just get the chance to chat all things NYR with her. Thank you Abi!

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Lunchtime had been and gone by the time I emerged from Neal’s Yard. Abigail had recommended that I swing by Petersham Nurseries in Covent Garden for a nosey then I made a beeline for Arket.

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I was absolutely famished, so grabbed a coffee and a cinnamon bun to get a little energy for some shopping and strolling. I really loved Arket and bought a few wee bits – my turtle bags came from there. It was great to just explore in the sunshine. What a difference from Tuesday’s dreary weather!

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Mid-afternoon saw me strolling through Carnaby and checking out the famous Liberty London. I could have stopped and snapped at every turn. I was totally in my element.

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Having worked in my local Topshop for 6 years in my late teens/early twenties, I couldn’t not take a nosey in the big Oxford Street store: a DJ, nail and hair bar, café and bubble tea stall are just a few ‘extras’ you can expect to find there. But, I definitely felt like I was beginning to fade a bit, so I took a wee seat with a bubble tea (so weird btw) after purchasing a few hairbands. As you do.

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It was now 4.30pm and my flight home wasn’t until 10pm so I made the decision to make the most of the good weather and use the tube to head towards London and Tower Bridges. I walked along the water from London Bridge towards Tower Bridge and it was glorious in the sunshine. Keeping a close eye on the time I made my way on foot across Tower Bridge (so glad I did) and down the other side of the river. I soaked it all in and snapped pictures like a maniac. My phone was on the portable charger by this stage!

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It was just after 6pm when I came full circle and arrived back at the entrance of The Sky Garden. The queue outside was small so I stood in line, deliberating whether I had time to go in or not. I had to factor in the time to walk to Liverpool St station and catch the Stansted express back to the airport. As I entered through the building I could see another queue going through security a little further ahead. My gut was telling me I just didn’t have the time. I listened to my gut, and for the second time in two days, I walked away from The Sky Garden! I’ll just book ahead next time! I managed to get to Liverpool St station and make it quickly and easily onto the Stansted Express. I’d called into an M&S foodhall en route and grabbed a sandwich, crisps, sweets and chocolate to snack on after suddenly realising I hadn’t eaten that much that day. I’d been more focused on what I was doing and seeing and wanting to make the most of my time! I munched away on the train as I headed to the airport – much needed fuel for the last leg of the journey. I still had quite a way to go to get myself home.

I was through security at Stansted by 8.15pm and admittedly felt a wee bit gutted that I probably would have had time to do The Sky Garden (albeit at a push)! So I settled myself and took a dander round the stores before perching up with a glass of fizz and maltesers while I waited for my gate. It felt like a nice way to say “cheers” to what had really been a brilliant trip.

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By the time I arrived home it was gone 2am and I was more than ready to see Matt and Phoebs and to crawl into my bed. 

Looking back, it all seems a bit surreal. I still can’t quite believe I actually went to London … by myself.

That I navigated the trains and tubes.

That I attended the Boden A/W preview.

That I did a ‘live’ in Neal’s Yard Remedies, Covent Garden.

That I didn’t get lost or panic or freak out!

It might sound silly to some but I definitely felt like I was exercising my ‘brave’ mode most this trip!

I can’t conclude this blog without thanking a few people, without whom, this trip would never have happened. Firstly, to Boden: thank you for extending ‘little old me’ an invitation to attend – I know I shouldn’t say that but it’s definitely how I felt on the day. What a wonderfully unique opportunity - one I do not take for granted. My only regret is not taking the opportunity to chat more to Mr Johnnie Boden! Next time perhaps?!  Secondly, to my Aunt and cousin: thank you for opening up your home and taking time to pick me up and drop me off. Thanks for the lend of your straighteners El! Thirdly, to my husband, Matt: thank you for believing in me, even when I don’t believe in myself. Thank you for pushing me – in love - to take opportunities like this one.  And lastly, to YOU: thank you for reading my blog and for investing your time and energy into following along on my journey. Thank you also to all you lovely people who gave me advice on where to go and what to see. I’ve a long list of places now for the next time! Milk train is top of that list! In all seriousness though, thank you again and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like any more details from my trip. Until next time London!

 

Six by Nico Review

Blogging, Fashion, FoodSteph DukeComment

On Sunday 10th March I took myself off to the big smoke for a few hours. The weather was wild and so was my hair as I bumbled my way through the door of Belfast’s hottest new restaurant ‘Six by Nico’.

There has been a real buzz around this new eatery and rumour has it that you can’t get a reservation before the end of April! So when I received an invite to come and try the unique 6 course menu at ‘Six by Nico’ - I couldn’t say no.

Pic by Michelle  @two_daisies

Pic by Michelle @two_daisies

Six by Nico offers customers a series of carefully curated and constantly evolving restaurant concepts. Each six weeks, Nico and his team will serve a brand new six-course tasting menu – each one themed upon a different place or memory.

I have to say a special thank you to Rumour Mill PR for the invitation to attend Sunday’s taster event. The afternoon was kindly hosted by SKAPA and Cathy Martin and we were treated to the current menu - ‘The Chippie’ - I cannot wait to share these incredible dishes with you.

Course One - ‘Chips & Cheese’   Parmesan Espuma | Crisp Potato | Curry Oil

Course One - ‘Chips & Cheese’

Parmesan Espuma | Crisp Potato | Curry Oil

Course Two - ‘Scampi’   Monkfish Cheeks | Pea Emulsion | Wild Garlic | Gribiche

Course Two - ‘Scampi’

Monkfish Cheeks | Pea Emulsion | Wild Garlic | Gribiche

Course Three - ‘Steak Pie’   Beef Shin | Burnt Onion Ketchup | Mushroom Duxelle | Red Wine | Glazed Puff Pastry

Course Three - ‘Steak Pie’

Beef Shin | Burnt Onion Ketchup | Mushroom Duxelle | Red Wine | Glazed Puff Pastry

Course Four - ‘Fish Supper’   Cod | Confit Fennel | Samphire | Beer Pickled Mussels

Course Four - ‘Fish Supper’

Cod | Confit Fennel | Samphire | Beer Pickled Mussels

Course Five - ‘Smoked Sausage’   Pork Belly | Salt Baked Celeriac | Caramelised Apple | Black Pudding

Course Five - ‘Smoked Sausage’

Pork Belly | Salt Baked Celeriac | Caramelised Apple | Black Pudding

Course Six - ‘Deep Fried Mars Bar’   Caramelia Chocolate | Orange Sorbet | Cocoa Nib

Course Six - ‘Deep Fried Mars Bar’

Caramelia Chocolate | Orange Sorbet | Cocoa Nib

The photos hopefully speak for themselves. Gosh. The food was really incredible! I’m not entirely sure I can pick a favourite … probably the scampi or the smoked sausage dishes topped the bill for me! I’m a dessert person though so I can’t not mention the deep fried mars bar - literally have no words for this dish! Stunning. Just stunning.

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I can confirm that they make a decent skinny flat white too! Hurrah!

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Everything about this place is top notch, what an honour to get the opportunity to experience it like I did!

Lovely to share a table with these two beauties @lauras_little_loves & @two_daisies

Lovely to share a table with these two beauties @lauras_little_loves & @two_daisies

Photo by @brendangallagherphoto

Photo by @brendangallagherphoto

Country Blog Retreat

Motherhood, Travel, FashionSteph DukeComment
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On Sunday, September 24th, 2017, the lovely Emma of @littlewoodlife held the very first 'Bloggers Retreat' in Northern Ireland. Set at the stunning Larchfield Estate, 140 bloggers and bloggers-to-be from all across our wee island gathered in anticipation. Anyone who knows Emma, knew that the afternoon would be styled to perfection; add to this the awesome line up of speakers (@melwiggins, @blossomingbirds etc) and afternoon tea provided by French Village and we were set for a wonderful time! 

 

This feels like a really special post for me as I wasn't supposed to be at this event at all! I completely missed out on the posts advertising the retreat so when Nic of @thebrightsidediary (check out her new blog!) asked me if I was going, I was gutted. I immediately contacted Emma and expressed my disappointment, asking her if she was planning to do another one (all the while secretly praying she'd say yes!) She instantly replied saying I wasn't going to believe it, but someone had just pulled out and their ticket was available! I was delighted! The timing of this retreat for me is quite significant and I was so excited to see some IG faces in real life and learn some tricks and tips from the pros. 

 

Super stylish Nic  @thebrightsidediary  - insta pals! Photo cred: @melwiggins

Super stylish Nic @thebrightsidediary - insta pals! Photo cred: @melwiggins

 

As Sunday approached I was a bundle of nerves and excitement. I must have tried on a gazillion outfit choices and looking back I wish I'd gone with my gut. Not that I hated my outfit, I had borrowed the skirt from my sister so I just didn't feel like 'myself' - you know what I mean?

 

Lesson One

We all have individual taste; have faith in that and own your personal style - it makes you, YOU!

 

Anyway, outfit decided and I was off. I'd never been to Larchfield Estate before but know of a few people who married there and always thought it looked gorgeous. And it truly is. Check out their function room ...

 

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Stunning right? I felt a little bit like I was at a wedding; everything was beautifully styled and there was a magical atmosphere right from the get go. On our arrival we enjoyed treats and drinks by @panaceadrinks, @clearer_water and @grahamsbakery - I very quickly spied the beautiful Erin of @motherbeastie and made a bee line her direction! It is so amazing to finally meet people in the flesh who I have followed on IG for so long! It's the weirdest thing as you feel you know so much about them, yet have never met face-to-face. Thank you Emma for giving so many of us the chance to get together. The buzz of the sharing of experiences and IG accounts, the encouragements and the, 'it's so good to finally meet you' 's was something so special. 

 

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After settling at our tables, we eagerly awaited the first session to begin. We had all been kindly gifted with goodie bags - here's a sneak peak of just some of what we were treated to:

 

+ An amazing @whitechalkstudio Print

+ A @belfastcoffeemap :)

+ @thenaturalbeautypot Bath Salts

+ Stunning notebooks by @sonniandblush

+ Yummy cookies by @grahamsbakery

 

Hand drawn map of Larchfield by Andrew Martin @littlewoodmr and @sonniandblush bespoke notepad

Hand drawn map of Larchfield by Andrew Martin @littlewoodmr and @sonniandblush bespoke notepad

 

It wasn't long before Emma took up her space (see what I did there Mel!) and welcomed us with her unique warmth and flair.  One selfie IG story later and first up was Anna of @blossomingbirds on 'Instagram Tips and Tricks'. Anna, with her famous honesty and humour, guided us through some really useful tools for IG and excellent advice on building brand and content. 

 

Would you just look at those two babes! @blossomingbirds + @melwiggins 

Would you just look at those two babes! @blossomingbirds + @melwiggins 

 

Next up, the Photo Walk. My aim was simple - be in as little photos as I could! That is definitely not my thing. I spent most of my time watching and learning in complete awe as Mel and Nic confidently snapped away and posed comfortably for the camera. They encouraged others to give it a try, speaking positive truth and complimenting our best features - it was beautiful. 

 

Lesson Two

Learn to be comfortable in your skin. Comparison and jealousy steals our creativity (thanks Mel) and sucks the very life out of us. We are different for a reason so embrace your 'imperfections' - it's usually only you who notices them. Gorgeous Laura of @havenonahilltop was spot on ... I'm paraphrasing here, 'we focus on our flaws, obsessing over them when all anyone else sees is our individual beauty and shine.'

 

It was pure joy to walk round the gardens of Larchfield with a bunch of fab girls who are passionate and fun and most importantly, don't take themselves too seriously! 

 

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BABE @lynnegivan_effortlessbeauty. Photo cred: @thebrightsidediary

BABE @lynnegivan_effortlessbeauty. Photo cred: @thebrightsidediary

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Photo cred: @thebrightsidediary

Photo cred: @thebrightsidediary

 

Unfortunately we missed out on the props that Emma had provided  ... huge confetti balloons and helium letters - all such fun and helped to create some fabulous shots. 

Then it was time to eat! French Village catered the event and honestly, the selection was heavenly: a selection of delicious sandwiches, 3 tiers of mini desserts, scones with jams and clotted cream with tea/coffee. Scrumptious! 

 

Chocolate Opera Cake, French Fancy + Salted Caramel Eclair

Chocolate Opera Cake, French Fancy + Salted Caramel Eclair

 

Afternoon tea was followed by Kerry and Tara of @sisters_and_sons who helpfully explained key information for those 'Starting out in Blogging.' Darling Mel of @melwiggins was next and our little table really had to contain ourselves from 'whooping' and 'cheering' her on as she spoke passionately about 'Developing Creativity.' 

 

Lesson Three

'Creativity as an adult takes a lot of courage.' - Mel Wiggins

Creativity, especially for adults, requires us to be vulnerable. It is only out of complete vulnerability that we can begin to unleash our truest, purest creativity.  

 

Mel shared 4 brilliant ways in which we can begin to explore our creative outputs:

1. Find your niche - What is it that you love? What gets you passionate?

2. 3 focal points - There is something about the rule of 3. What 3 areas or passions do you have or want to develop?

3. Take up your space - There is always room for your voice.

4. Comparison versus Community - Comparing yourself to others will never, ever benefit you.

 

 

Mel on fire - totally inspired!

Mel on fire - totally inspired!

 

The last seminar I was able to hear was the brilliant 'Blogging for Business Panel' with Rachael Martin of @thebretonbird, Laura-Ann Barr of @all.thats.pretty and Anna Corry of @blossomingbirds. The girls discussed some of the practicalities of business blogging along with some honest stories of their own experiences. I was raging to miss Andrew and Colin's 'Life as an Insta-Partner' speech but I had to head off early! I did hear that it was hilarious though so well done lads! Check out @littlewoodmr and @father_of_the_birds for the male perspective of Emma and Anna's antics! 

 

Honestly, it really was the most wonderful retreat. It took a lot for some people to even go; real courage and bravery to step up and be counted. I'm so glad I did - I left feeling inspired and encouraged, feeling privileged to be part of a growing community of passionate people who support one another instead of tearing each other down.

 

Emma Martin, your bravery and creativity just shone! Never stop inspiring those around you. Well done and thank you for creating a space for like-minded people to feel safe and get some royal treatment - we loved it! When's the next one?!

 

Love,

Steph 

@mylittleduke

'Myrtle the glamping truck ( her own sauna included! )

'Myrtle the glamping truck ( her own sauna included! )

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A/W Fashion Preview

FashionSteph Duke1 Comment

I’ve always loved fashion in one way, shape or form.

It all began when I was sweet sixteen and on the hunt for a part-time job whilst studying for my A-Levels. Walking past my local high street Topshop store, I spotted their advert for Sales Advisor in the window. I remember dragging my friend into the shop and nervously filling in an application at the counter, under the manager’s steely gaze! The job was part-time for the busy Christmas period, but ended up being extended afterwards for what turned out to be another 6 years, until I decided to give it up to start my PGCE in Teaching.

During those 6 years working for Topshop, I learned an incredible amount; not just about the retail/fashion business, but about myself too. I learned how much I loved communicating with customers, both at the till-point and on the shop floor, fitting and styling. I learned how to merchandise and the satisfaction I got from standing back and looking at my newly merchandised display was too good! I also learned about my own body shape; what clothes just ‘worked’ and what clothes definitely didn’t! Those years in Topshop saw my confidence boom and my weight slowly drop off as I went from a size 16 to a size 8 and at one point I had an item of clothing from every size in my wardrobe!!! (See previous blog.)

I enjoyed my time working for Topshop immensely and made some wonderful friendships with colleagues. After completing my degree in English and Drama I took a year out to get married and to decide on my next career step. I worked around 16/20 hours a week in the store and my passion for retail had me almost heading in the direction of training/studying for Retail Management; but my love for teaching tipped the scales and I applied for a PGCE in English at Queen’s University, Belfast. I knew that I had to put all my focus on my studies so just before I was due to get married, I handed in my notice and my time at Topshop came to an end. I still miss the craic and of course, the discount!!

Some of the Topshop girlies at my wedding!

Some of the Topshop girlies at my wedding!

Unfortunately, being a teacher means that my work uniform isn’t quite as fashionable as it was in Topshop, but I do try and have just a little bit of style – if I can manage it! At the moment though, all I can manage is a bit of mascara some days!! So, to be asked to come as a ‘local blogger’ to the A/W preview at Little Boutique in Alana Interiors – I was delighted! I pulled my lovely sister in on the action and made it a date!

Alana Interiors is a beautiful, bespoke living interiors store in Lurgan. It is hugely popular and for good reason … Affectionately known to us locals as ‘Alana’s’ – it prides itself on stocking only the best designer home décor and fashion brands. This family run department store offers an excellent wedding list service and has a delicious café upstairs serving a fabulous range of hot and cold dishes. My school is right beside Alana’s and too often I’m tempted to nip across and indulge in something sweet! The problem is, I can’t resist having a nosey when I’m there and usually end up buying something and avoiding telling my husband!

Ems styled in Jacket:   Topshop  . Skirt:   New Look  .

Ems styled in Jacket: Topshop. Skirt: New Look.

I was so looking forward to the preview night and relished the chance to don my heels and spend a night out with my sister Emily. (Matt was on baby duty!) On our arrival we were treated to a delicious display of fancy finger foods – all free of charge. The selection was scrumptious and I definitely couldn’t fit anything more on my plate!! We scoffed the lot before the settling in to watch the fashion show. Honestly, the A/W collection in perfect. There is something for all ages, all sizes and all styles. Each outfit was carefully chosen to appeal to such a wide audience and the models, again, were a range of ages and sizes. There was definitely something for everyone and what I especially loved was how REAL the collection is. Everything was totally wearable and affordable.

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Jacket:   Topshop  . Blouse:   F&F  . Jeans:   George  . Heels:   New Look  .

Jacket: Topshop. Blouse: F&F. Jeans: George. Heels: New Look.

After the preview, my sister and I scuttled off to browse the boutique and chat to the ladies. I had kindly been given a £50 voucher to spend so I was on the lookout for something special from one of my favourite brands, Joules. Typically, as mamas do, I ended up with a gorgeous outfit for my daughter Phoebe - a sweet little Joules jumper and the cutest pink cloud leggings by awesome local brand Jack and Jillaroo – nothing for me! Sometimes I totally think Phoebe is more stylish than me!! 

Phoebe styled in Jumper:   Joules  . Leggings:   Jack & Jillaroo   - both from Little Boutique @ Alana's.

Phoebe styled in Jumper: Joules. Leggings: Jack & Jillaroo - both from Little Boutique @ Alana's.

Thank you Alana’s for a fabulous evening of food and fashion … if you have never visited, make a point of doing so if you’re ever nearby. Alana Interiors is opposite Tesco, Lurgan and is well worth a nosey. It’s even a good excuse for a cuppa and one of their yummy scones! 

Check out Alana Interiors on Facebook or visit their website.

No better time to visit Alana's than when the store looks magical for Christmas! They stock the most beautiful Christmassy delights!

No better time to visit Alana's than when the store looks magical for Christmas! They stock the most beautiful Christmassy delights!

View some shots from the catwalk below!